Published: May 21, 2002
PHILADELPHIA, PENN. – Thanks to a $5 million grant to the Philadelphia Museum of Art from The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway has become the site for a spectacular and buoyant display of artistic treasures that will augment the enjoyment of any stroll along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for years to come.
In a press briefing at the Rodin Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Calder Foundation presented to the public four outdoor sculptures by the Philadelphia-born sculptor Alexander Calder (1898-1976), one of the great artists of the Twentieth Century.
The much-anticipated installation — three elegant black sculptures now grace the garden of the Rodin Museum while a tall, multicolored stabile/mobile commands the two-acre site of the future Calder museum at 22nd Street and the Parkway — is the first in a succession of rotations in the 12-year program funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
It brings Calder’s celebrated works to Philadelphia, placing these works in context with the achievements of his father, Alexander Stirling Calder (1870-1945), who designed the Swann Memorial Fountain (1924) at Logan Circle, and his grandfather, Alexander Milne Calder (1846-1923), who designed the figure of William Penn that stands atop City Hall’s clock tower (1886-1894).
On view in the Rodin Museum courtyard are “The Pagoda” (1963) and “Snow Plow” (1963), two painted metal stabile sculptures lent from the Calder Foundation, and “Three Discs, One Lacking” (1968), owned by the City of Philadelphia and formerly on view at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Across the Parkway stands the delicate sculpture “Ordinary” (1969), also on loan from the Calder Foundation, which is a full 211/2 feet tall.
The works are from the period when the artist was most engaged in the creation of outdoor sculptures on a monumental scale. With the installation of Calder’s works along the parkway, Philadelphians and visitors alike can fully appreciate the boldness and brilliance of Calder’s art as they approach the area where the new museum will rise.
Anne d’Harnoncourt, director and chief executive officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said, “We are deeply indebted to The Pew Charitable Trusts. Not only does this initiative underscore the importance of three generations of Alexander Calders to Philadelphia, it further enhances Philadelphia’s most splendid boulevard. It will be spectacular to see the full achievement of the youngest Alexander Calder exhibited in the city of his birth and in the context of the sculpture of his father and grandfather. We are thrilled to work with the Calder Foundation on this project and are enormously grateful for the enthusiastic support of the City of Philadelphia and the Fairmont Park Commission.”
Alexander Calder was the third generation of the accomplished artistic family from Philadelphia. Alexander Milne Calder, who immigrated to Philadelphia from Scotland, created some 200 sculptural decorations adorning City Hall in addition to the much-loved bronze statue of “William Penn.” Alexander Stirling Calder, who was born in Philadelphia, was especially noted for the “Swann Memorial Fountain” but also created many other sculptures throughout the city and on the parkway. At the western end of the parkway, Alexander Calder’s ethereal mobile “Ghost” (1964) is suspended in the great stair hall of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Members of Calder’s family formed the Calder Foundation in 1987 to promote and disseminate Alexander Calder’s work. In anticipation of establishing a Calder museum, the Calder Foundation facilitated a temporary loan in 1999 to the City of Philadelphia of a large-scale privately own stabile entitled “Eagle” (1971).
During the 18-month period in which the sculpture was on view on the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s East Terrace, the art museum explored the feasibility of helping to create and facilitate the operations of a Calder museum situated on the parkway.
On February 14, 2001, Calder Foundation Director Alexander S.C. Rower, Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street, representatives from the Philadelphia Museum of Art along with other enthusiastic supporters, announced the selection of this city for the Calder museum and the Japan-based firm of Tadao Ando as architect.
In June 2001, The Pew Charitable Trusts announced its $5 million grant to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to oversee the 12-year project of installing the works of Alexander Calder along the parkway.
Calder was born in Lawnton, Penn., in 1898. He graduated in 1919 from the Stevens Institute of Technology with a degree in mechanical engineering. In 1923, after a series of assorted jobs, he entered the Art Students League in New York and embarked on a career that would revolutionize the course of modern sculpture and earn him international renown.
From 1926 to 1929, his miniature wire circus sculpture and performance piece “Cirque” brought him to the attention of the art world’s leading figures, including Miro, Leger, Mondrian and Picasso.
He worked in a wide range of media and is best known for inventing freely moving constructions suspended in air (for which Marcel Duchamp coined the term “mobiles”) and for his large freestanding sculptures, “stabiles.”
In the final decade before his death in 1976, Calder devoted himself increasingly to monumental outdoor sculpture. His work figures prominently in the modern collections of major museums throughout the world, and a retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., in 1998, also shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, attracted 603,700 visitors during its run in the two cities.
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