Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture at Tate Modern

by Sunjoo Alice Kim

Having been inspired by Alexander Calder during my studies at university, it was interesting to learn of his many other pieces of work at Tate Modern. Famous for his mobiles, Calder showed his talent as an artist from having brought up under his father and grandfather who were noted sculptors and his mother a painter. However, he studied mechanical engineering and spent several years in different jobs before studying painting.

Alexander Calder with Snow Flurry l (1948), 1952, Tate Modern. Photo credits: 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London.

Alexander Calder with Snow Flurry l (1948), 1952, Tate Modern. Photo credits: 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London.

Calder created a completely new way of sculpting when at the time sculptures were made from stone, bronze or wood. When you first step into the exhibition, many faces greet you as they hang from the ceiling. They seem somewhat illustrated as a line drawing which looks two dimensional but is also a three dimensional sculpture, this which critics defined as ‘drawing in space’.

Fernand Léger c.1930 by Alexander Calder,, Tate Modern. Photo credits: 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London.

Fernand Léger c.1930 by Alexander Calder,, Tate Modern. Photo credits: 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London.

The pieces range from animals to people which were very friendly to admire. With this technique, he constructed his own miniature circus performers and created ‘Cirque Calder’ to stage live shows in front of small invited audiences including Jean Cocteau, Joan Miro and Piet Mondrian.

Calder was inspired by the geometrical shapes when visiting the studio of Piet Mondrian where the idea of making these elements move struck him. ‘The shock that converted me. It was like the baby being slapped to make its lungs start working.’

Blue Panel 1936 by Alexander Calder, Tate Modern. Photo credits: 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London.

Blue Panel 1936 by Alexander Calder, Tate Modern. Photo credits: 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London.

From this he combined movement and abstraction. In each piece, a painted wooden panel provides a backdrop in front of which coloured shapes are suspended, suggesting two-dimensional abstract painting that have taken kinetic three dimensional form.

orm Against Yellow (Yellow Panel) 1936 by Alexander Calder, Tate Modern. Photo credits: 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London.

orm Against Yellow (Yellow Panel) 1936 by Alexander Calder, Tate Modern. Photo credits: 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London.

The room where these painting/sculptures were in was one of the most interesting rooms as it was a collection that has not been on public view for decades and which I certainly have never seen before. It was interesting to hear the blowing of some observers around the exhibition to try and see some movement of the shapes. I loved how you are able to see that these are three dimensional sculptures when you step into the room but once you stand in front of it, it simply becomes a two dimensional painting.

Gamma 1947 by Alexander Calder, Tate Modern. Photo credits: 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London.

Gamma 1947 by Alexander Calder, Tate Modern. Photo credits: 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London.

Triple Gong, ca. 1948 by Alexander Calder, Tate Modern. Photo credits: 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London.

Triple Gong, ca. 1948 by Alexander Calder, Tate Modern. Photo credits: 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London.

The biggest room contained many mobiles that Calder developed in the mid-1930s. They were elegantly and beautifully balanced all unique in their own way. One mobile was circular and white that it reminded me of falling snow and another had lots of different colours which somehow reminded me of falling leaves in Autumn.

Alexander Calder with 21 feuilles blanches Paris 14e, Tate Modern. Photo credits: 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London.

Alexander Calder with 21 feuilles blanches Paris 14e, Tate Modern. Photo credits: 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London.

From 11th November 2015 – 3rd April 2016

Further details on the Tate website

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