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Artistic Inspiration

Calder & Abstraction: From Avant Garde to Iconic

Fun fact: Though LACMA commissioned Alexander Calder's Three Quintains (Hello Girls) for it's opening in 1965, the museum's current exhibit of the artist's work is his first in Los Angeles. This is surprising, in light of the fact that Calder is considered a modern art icon, thanks to his innovative sculptures and most notably, his invention of the mobile.



ALEXANDER CALDER. LACOON, 1947
SHEET METAL, WIRE, ROD, STRING & PAINT.
THE ELI AND EDYTHE L BROAD COLLECTION

The wait was well worth it. LACMA's retrospective (1931-1975) allows visitors to experience the subtle progression of his mobiles and stabiles from work that feels lightweight and whimsical to pieces that are deeply rooted in the earth; while also highlighting Calder's many artistic influences (including Miro and Mondrian). The experience is enhanced by a cleverly designed installation by none other than architect Frank O. Gehry. The circular layout groups together notable artistic periods, displays pieces (like the Snow Flurry mobile) that deserve a solo look in their own nook, while still keeping the exhibit feeling like a whole collection.

ALEXANDER CALDER. BLUE FEATHER, 1948.
SHEET METAL, WIRE AND PAINT
CALDER FOUNDATION, NEW YORK.

For architects and interior designers this exhibit serves as great inspiration for innovative ways to experiment with positive and negative space and manipulate the flow of a room by incorporating interesting angles. Calder's talent for this is palpable even in his earlier work, which focuses on combining discreet elements (wood, sheet metal) to create stabiles that are a composite of rudimentary shapes (circles, triangles). Though each piece is constructed from weighty material, they look as if faced with a strong wind, chances are they had blow away. This is due in part to each sculpture's focus on negative space, which is balanced by using a single bright pop of color (usually red).

ALEXANDER CALDER. LA GRANDE VITESSE (INTERMEDIATE MAQUETTE), 1969.
SHEET METAL, BOLTS, PAINT.
CALDER FOUNDATION, NEW YORK.

Calder's panels, moveable sheet metal structures set against a canvas, show off how deep of an influence Miro was to his work (the pieces look like 3D renderings of his paintings). Much like his constellation series (which was based on his fascination with antique astronomical devices and models of the solar system), these works display a keen hand at creating the illusion of movement through the use of angles. Even though many of these pieces are stabile, they have the same palpable kinetic energy as his mobiles, and feel simultaneously like they have a definitive stopping point and could also go on forever.

It's interesting then, that his large-scale steel structures feel so rooted in the ground, even though they are crafted from the same material and feature similar angles. This is probably due to the fact that these pieces play with less negative space than their predecessors, giving them the appearance of great stability.

Calder and Abstraction is on display through July 27th in the Resnick Pavilion at LACMA. For more information visit www.lacma.org.


All images courtesy LACMA