By Kevin Yang
“Calder: Hypermobility” at the Whitney Museum of American Art provides a serene space to view Alexander Calder’s fascinating sculptures as they were initially intended to be viewed: in motion. While sculpture is known as a static medium, the Whitney has taken advantage of Calder’s innovations in modern art by activating his mobiles in daily performances that create an experience both exciting and thought-provoking. Calder’s mobiles, invented in the early 1930s, feature forms in dynamic, unpredictable movement set in a space that itself remains serene. These two seemingly opposite concepts are intertwined throughout Calder’s body of work and the entire exhibition.
It is my first time seeing Calder’s work in person, and my first impression is fixated on how delicate, simplistic, and yet complex his sculptures are. The open space of the exhibition is backed by stark white and blue walls which set up a glaring contrast for Calder’s sculptures to pop out. Among the collection of Calder’s works my favorite piece is Blizzard (1946). its delicate white color highlights it as the simplest of the collection. Nevertheless, the simplicity does not convey even a slight sense of boredom as Calder pays detailed attention on its shape and form; the circles, which represent snowflakes, hang in different sizes and oscillate in different directions. When the sculpture is activated, it rotates as a whole while each individual circle rotates on its own. Everything is in its purest form in Blizzard, leading me to appreciate the artwork and the organic beauty of nature. The sculpture hangs in front of a deep blue wall and I feel as if I am engulfed in winter, walking through the snow.
Throughout his collection of mobiles, Calder is able to reference multiple points of nature; these elements shine through as inspiration in Sea Scape (1947) and Fish (1944). Sea Scape is similar to Blizzard, insofar as the shapes of natural elements, in this case animals, are abstracted to simple lines and hues. Indeed, this sculpture, along with others in this exhibition, is very calming in reflection of its surroundings, providing myself a chance to appreciate the artwork without disturbance. The latter–Fish–is more complex in terms of color. It is outlined in yellow, red, and blue, with the blend of small colorful fragments in its body, which gleams when the sunlight shines upon it. It is through both of these pieces that I am reminded of the mobiles I was accustomed to as a child, while simultaneously contemplating a piece of modern art.
Calder’s work was no doubt shaped by friend and French avant-garde artist Piet Mondrian, whose palette of primary colours and abstracted subjects served as his inspiration. It is rare to see Calder’s work activated in this way, which made my experience that much more exciting. Calder’s work is a mainstay of modern art and reminds us of the fragility and movement that even still and seemingly stable structures can have.
“Calder: Hypermobility” is on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art through Oct 23, 2017.
Originally published 10/18/17