Written for You

Catch Calder at the LA County Museum

All it takes is a stroll through the works of Alexander Calder to raise the corners of even the most jaded art lover’s lips. At the Los Angeles County Museum through July 27th, Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic is a lesson in curves, twists and space bending work. It seems to defy gravity as mobiles and sculptures lift like blowing leaves frozen midair trickles of their former selves dotting behind like a high speed picture snapshot. All the while the viewer tries to make sense of their sudden feeling of euphoria while at the same time strains to make heads or tails of how such art does not fall or fly away. 

 A Prodigal Son

Alexander Calder (1898-1976) was born into a family of sculptors and painters (his grandfather is famous for his sculpture of William Penn on top of Philadelphia City Hall’s tower). His early years started in Pennsylvania and sporadically moved back and forth between the East and West coasts. Encouraged by his artist parents (instrumental in developing the UC Berkley Art Museum) Calder was always offered studio space in each of their many homes throughout his nomadic childhood. He began working with mixed media (namely metal and wire) eventually constructing an entire circus made of cardboard, wire and buttons. This was one of the first inceptions of his notable work to come. His great influence was his talent for mathematics, namely mechanical engineering, which is what he studied at Stevens Institute of Technology. He went on to attempt a career in this chosen field but eventually succumbed to his artistic calling in 1925. 

The Abstract Mind

Many of Calder’s works are kinetic meaning that they move. Seeing the flow of such pieces sporting black, white, red, blue and yellow hues on cylindrical shapes held up by the faintest of long armed wires reminds one of their delicate intention. It is the noble designs of these works that spawned a long line of a popular children’s mobile industry still thriving today. Said to have inspired works by Matisse, Pollack, Hesse, Matta-Clark, Fontana and Irwin, Calder forged the way for creating curvature through not only space but also through an odd sense of suspended time. Eucalyptus, one of the large black pieces in the show displays what looks like the skeleton of a fish above blooming flowers anchored by a twisted rendition of an otherworldly long billed bird all held together by thin wire strands. Laocoön is another piece that could represent a bioluminescent deep sea creature floating in its blackened oceanic atmosphere. Then there’s Gibraltar, one of the few of Calder’s incorporation of wood (walnut and lignum vitae) which can catapult one back to a whimsical sense of wizards combined by a futuristic touch. 

This installation is the perfect first date, the perfect parent to child art exposure, the perfect fit of science meets serendipitous space bending. Take some time out of your digital day and soak in as much as you can of Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic for a soft mental ride of inspiring, joyful creations.