Published: June 6, 2006
Internationally famous for his mobiles and stabiles, Alexander Calder (1898-1976) is rarely remembered as a Surrealist, but Surrealism reigned when Calder moved to Paris in 1926 and he felt the powerful influence of the movement’s key players. On June 11 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA), “The Surreal Calder” presents more than 70 works by the artist demonstrating his place in the avant garde movement that so dominated pre-World War II art.
Avant-garde figures such as Jean Arp christened Calder’s static constructions “stabiles”; Marcel Duchamp suggested the name “mobile” for Calder’s kinetic works; Joan Miró familiarized Calder with some central theses of Surrealism; and Piet Mondrian introduced him to pure abstraction. In spite of Calder’s Surrealist lineage – he was, for example, included in the important 1936 “Exposition surréaliste d’objets” in Paris – he has until now generally been separated from those beginnings and excluded from most exhibitions of Surrealist art.
Organized by the Menil Collection, Houston, this exhibition is the first focusing on the artist’s relationship to Surrealism. It includes some of his earliest mechanized sculptures, “Goldfish Bowl,” 1929, and “Tightrope,” 1936, a large sculpture that recalls his ongoing fascination with the circus. Works from the MIA’s permanent collection have also been selected for inclusion in “The Surreal Calder,” on view through September 10 in the MIA’s new wing designed by Michael Graves and Associates.
“The Surreal Calder” sets the Surrealist stage with apreamble of key paintings from the Menil’s Surrealist collection,featuring works by Max Ernst, René Magritte, Yves Tanguy and otherartists. The exhibition also includes a “cabinet of curiosities,” agrouping of non-Western objects collected by Calder and assembledby the artist’s grandson, Alexander S.C. Rower. Like allSurrealists, Calder was fascinated and inspired by the kind ofethnographic material and exotica that would fill a “cabinet ofcuriosities” of his time.
The exhibition makes evident the especially strong Surrealist vein in Calder’s combinations of found materials. Works such as “Gibraltar,” 1936, reveal Calder’s affinity with Arp’s and Miró’s sculptures. Some of the works in the exhibition also explore Calder’s creatures, and illustrate Surrealism founder André Breton’s term of praise – merveilleux (marvelous).
Calder was born July 22, 1898, near Philadelphia, into a family of artists (his grandfather sculpted the famous figure of William Penn atop Philadelphia’s City Hall). Calder earned a mechanical engineering degree at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. Among the subjects he studied was applied kinetics, dealing with the effects of force on free-moving bodies, which eventually contributed to his invention of the mobile. He attended the Art Students League in New York before leaving for Paris, where he studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. Calder thereafter divided his time between France and the United States. He died in New York on November 11, 1976.
A fully illustrated color catalog accompanies this exhibition, and includes an essay by organizing curator Mark Rosenthal.
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