If you’ve ever needed an excuse to go to Montreal this is it. Alexander Calder: Radical Inventor at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is a must-see exhibit.
This major retrospective includes the expected. His famous moving sculptures. They were jokingly dubbed “mobiles” by his friend Marcel Duchamp. In response, another friend, the artist Jean Arp quipped “What do you call those things you did last year…stabiles?” about Calder’s stationary sculptures. Calder was amused by both labels. Everyone was surprised they stuck.
It can be easy to forget what a huge innovator Calder was. He invented the moving sculpture as an art form in 1931. He may have been influenced by 18thcentury children toys but as art they were revolutionary. His first “mobiles” were powered by small motors. Calder disliked the predictability of the movement. He perfected the balancing so they would be propelled by fluctuations in the air and by wind.
These are not his only claim to fame. Before the mobiles he had been garnering acclaim for his “drawings in space”, wire sculptures. Later his monumental projects, “agrandissements” as he called them, would find homes in public squares all over the world. Sadly, the big red Bent Propellers erected in front of the World Trade Center in New York in 1971 was destroyed on September 11, 2001.
Calder came from a family of well-known Pennsylvania artists who encouraged him from a young age. Though they moved often, every home had a studio for Alexander. That said, his parents convinced him to study mechanical engineer instead of art. They knew the life of an artist was unpredictable. After graduated from Stephens Institute of Technology in 1919 he tried working in his field. He only lasted 3 years before giving it up for a career as an artist. He moved to Paris in 1925, spending the rest of his life creating between France and his native America.
The Montreal show also includes the unexpected. In addition to mobiles and stabiles there are examples of his paintings, his jewelry and even fabric that he designed. There are photos and videos which allow the experiencing of his agrandissements, his theater costumes and more whimsical projects like the painted Braniff jet and a BMW car.
Go see it if you can!