Within art circles, if you were to mention the ‘mobile,’ there are no names that spring to mind other than Alexander Calder (1898-1976) – who is renowned for having invented these ingenious, performing sculptures.
Having amassed an impressive portfolio of work that spanned several decades, a large portion of Calder’s work is being brought to the Tate Modern for the UK audience to marvel at. The exhibition, entitled Performing Sculpture, will showcase about 100 of the American artist's works between his formative years from the late 20s to the early 60s where he had established an illustrious career.
Achim Borchardt-Hume, the Director of Exhibitions at the Tate Modern and co-curator of this exhibition, stated that Calder was ‘responsible for rethinking sculpture’ when referring to his innovative invention of the mobile. He went on to add that with regular sculptures, one must glean everything they can by moving around it – but Calder ‘made sculpture move for us.’
He further conflated Calder’s sculptures with the performance arts, stressing how important this field contributed to Calder’s work. Pieces like Dancers and Sphere (1938) showcases motion in a way similar to children playing whereas Red Gongs (1950) is a mobile that introduces the sound of a brass gong – showing how well he managed to take performance to another level.
Performing Sculpture will also feature Calder’s Alexander’s famed wire sculptures of his artistic contemporaries and friends, including a wired portrait of Joan Miró suspended in space.
However, perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this exhibition will be the mechanics of movement behind his mobiles. The slow, cloud-like movement of the sculptures will be powered purely by the airflow in the room. This delicate motion is something that is lost in images, but can only truly experienced in person.
Perhaps the only regrettable aspect of this upcoming exhibition would be the omission of the stage sets he designed when working with choreographer Martha Graham. Nevertheless, this is a necessary omission. The entirety of his performance art is suspended within and between the movements of his sculptures. There does not need to be anyone performing in order to augment the power of his sculptures – because they do all the performing instead.
Fans of modernism, mathematics and the masterful should most certainly attend. This is not an exhibition to be missed.