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Landmark Early Works by American Artist Alexander Calder Tell the Story of an Artist Becoming a Master
Alexander Calder, Calder's Circus (Lion and Cage), 1926 1931(DETAIL) Mixed media: wire, wood, metal, cloth, yarn, paper, cardboard, leather, string, rubber tubing, corks, buttons, rhinestones, pipe cleaners, and bottle caps. Overall: 54 x 94 1/4 x 94 1/4in. (137.2 x 239.4 x 239.4cm) Whitney Museum of American Art.

TORONTO.- Most artists spend their formative years in the studio, honing their technique and finding their style, hoping that somebody somewhere will notice their work. Not Alexander Calder. The 20th century’s most celebrated and influential sculptor spent his formative years hitting the streets of Paris with a creation that has to be seen to be believed — a magical miniature circus. This fall, that circus is coming to Canada for the first time as the centrepiece of a special exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario titled Alexander Calder: The Paris Years 1926–1933.

Running from October 3, 2009 to January 10, 2010, the exhibition draws on over 80 works to tell the story of Calder’s artistic trajectory — from his early sketches of circus folk in New York and the small wire sculptures he created in Paris to early examples of his famous mobiles. The focal point of the exhibition is Calder’s Circus, a miniature three-dimensional circus that Calder created between 1926 and 1931 and then performed internationally for decades, garnering the attention of the Paris art scene and introducing him to artists whose friendship and influence would change his life and work forever, including Mondrian, Miró and Man Ray.

“It’s really an exhibition about a young artist developing his own vocabulary and responding to what was around him,” says Joan Simon, curator at large at the Whitney Museum of American Art, who organized the show with Brigitte Leal of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. “When Calder arrived in Paris in 1926, he aspired to be a painter; when he left in 1933, he had evolved into the artist we know today: an international figure and defining force in twentieth-century sculpture.”

“Calder’s wonderful sense of whimsy and exuberance makes this a terrific show for the whole family,” says AGO director and CEO Matthew Teitelbaum. “Calder’s Circus is such an enchanting work. It’s a thrill to be able to share it with a Canadian audience for the first time alongside the work that made Calder famous — those magical mobiles.”

Patrons will be able to view many of the incredible mechanical sculptures that Calder created and operated while performing his Circus: a lion that roars before taking its handler’s head in its mouth; trapeze artists that latch arms, fly through the air and then drop into a net; a dancer, naked but for some strategically placed fringe, seductively twisting and twirling. Giving context to these sculptures is Jean Painlevé’s 1955 film Le Grand Cirque Calder 1927, a visual recording of Calder performing his Circus as only he could.

Alexander Calder: The Paris Years 1926–1933 includes 56 sculptures, 6 paintings and 34 works on paper and was organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the Centre Pompidou, Paris.

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