Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture
11 Nov 2015 – 3 Apr 2016
The first major UK retrospective of the American sculptor who helped to reshape modernism.
Performance is at the heart of Alexander Calder’s sculpture. Right from the early days of his career – spent in Paris as part of the artistic avant garde – he would create wire portraits of circus characters and put on improvised shows, known as Cirque Calder.
His fascination with the theatrical world continued into the heights of his success, when he pioneered the 'mobile' – a hanging kinetic sculpture stirred by air currents, motors or touch to evoke the movement associated with performing arts. In fact, Calder said he thought of his sculptures as performers in their own right, devised ‘independently of dancers, or without them altogether’.
This exhibition includes a selection of his most significant sculptures which reveal how he drew on movement, choreography and sound to fundamentally transform the principles of modern sculpture. It also charts his important collaborations with choreographers, for whom he designed performance objects, decor, costumes and theatrical spaces.
An undoubted highlight is the formerly-abandoned Acrobats sculpture that has been reassembled for this exhibition. The original work comprised a female acrobat balancing on the stomach of a male performer, but the woman's leg was snipped off at its first public showing in 1929 because somebody 'needed a bit of wire to repair something'.
Calder was so devastated by the loss he refused to re-make the piece and the two figures ended up being separated into different collections, the female remaining incomplete. At the launch of this exhibition, Calder’s grandson revealed that the missing piece of wire had been discovered neglected in a drawer and – after being re-added to the female – the pair have been reunited as a mobile after more than 80 years.