Calder @ Pace: abstract, kinetic and surrealist

Surely you have seen at least one Calder sculpture – suspended above paintings – as every major art museum has its Calder’s mobile. The Pace gallery presents Calder’s works in 1945-49, after the war, when supplies of sheet aluminium returned. It is the first Calder solo exhibition I saw, which allowed me to concentrate on Calder’s works without the overwhelming presence of surrounding paintings by other artists.

Marcel Duchamp named Calder’s sculptures of suspended forms that move with the flow of air, ‘mobiles’. Looking at the works on display, I asked myself: was Calder a kinetic* artist, abstract, or surrealist? The answer is all three, I believe. The shadows and the movement of the wires and elements of Calder’s mobiles are as important as the actual pieces. Calder kinetic. Several titles of his works point to figurative art (Little Parasite, Tentacles) and some works in the exhibition are clearly figurative like his Fish and Horse and Rider. Nevertheless, other compositions are pure abstract forms, where he cared about the harmony of the colours and shapes as opposed to figurative representation. He was, as a matter of fact, inspired by his visit to the studio of Mondrian, the Dutch pioneer of abstract art. Calder abstract. Separately, his structures recalled Miro’s biomorphic shapes and seemed to be imaginary forms from the subconscious. Calder surrealist.

There is always a Calder mobile in modern art museums but the Pace gallery exhibition allows the visitor to focus attention on the interaction between the wires and the cut and painted metal sheets of different shapes and colours. The gallery shows Calder’s pieces at their best as the white background enables to see shapes and their shadows more distinctly than when Calder mobiles are decoratively suspended above paintings. The exhibition ends 7 June. The Pace gallery is a New York-based leading contemporary art gallery and is situated in the Royal Academy’s Burlington Gardens building in London (next to the tasty 42° Raw café).

* Op art, also referred to as optical art, employs optical illusions, while kinetic art contains movement discerned by the viewer. Optical and kinetic art originated from the ‘Movement’ exhibition in Denise René’s Paris gallery in 1955, while broader perceptual art sprung up at ‘The Responsive Eye’ exhibition at MOMA in New York in 1965.

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