Last year the Hague Municipal Museum
received the prestigious Turing Art Grant for its exhibition concept for Alexander Calder - The Great Discovery. The award has made it possible to go ahead with this huge project and this spring the Hague Municipal Museum will present the first major Dutch Calder retrospective to be held since 1969. This relative neglect of Calder is surprising since he used to be regarded in the Netherlands as the most important American artist of the post-war period. Early on, Calder redefined sculpture by drawing three-dimensional figures and portraits with wire in space. Then, in 1930, he visited Mondrians studio in Paris, which was to be a turning point in his career. Calder admired Mondrians use of space and converted it into his own artistic expression grounded in gesture and immateriality. That realization and the way it radically changed his work is the key focus of this exhibition.
Alexander Calder (1898 1976) grew up in a family full of creative energy: his father was a sculptor and his mother painted. As a child, he made small sculptures, model animals and jewellery from whatever materials came to hand. Even so, he trained initially as an engineer and did not attend art school until 1923. His technical education would enable him to translate his passion for movement into art; everything he made was kinetic. This was a major innovation: never again would sculpture be seen as necessarily a matter of chisels and blocks of wood or stone.
Between 1926 and 1933 Calder lived in Paris, then the heart of the modern art movement. At this stage, Calder redefined sculpture by drawing three-dimensional figures and portraits with wire in space and he was famous for the regular performances he gave with the complete and complex miniature circus Cirque Calder (1926-1931) he had concocted from everyday materials like wire, wood, leather, cork and scraps of cloth. All the circus figures could be made to move: acrobats swayed across the tightrope, dogs jumped through hoops and the elephant stood up on its back legs.
The central feature of the exhibition is a complete reconstruction of Mondrians studio in the Rue du Départ. This exhibit marks Calders transition from figurative to abstract art: it was his visit to this studio in 1930 that triggered a radical change in his artistic practice. Abandoning his figurative sculptures, he became an abstract artist. He began to add red, black or white discs to his wire and to produce mobiles of increasing size, in which he constantly sought to combine equilibrium and movement.
The exhibition includes a film that was shown in the Netherlands in the early 1930s. Made by Hans Cürlis in 1929, it shows Alexander Calder creating two wire circus figures with no more than a pair of pliers and his own bare hands. Even then, Calder was regarded as the most innovative sculptor because of his novel choice of methods and materials.