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An exhibition of works by Alexander Calder opens at The Neuberger Museum of Art
Alexander Calder, Untitled (circular and swirling forms) n.d. Lithograph on paper, 8 from an edition of 20, 30 5/8 x 42 5/8 inches (sight). Numbered lower left: “8/20”. Signed lower right: “Calder”. Collection Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York. Gift of Stephen Singer.

PURCHASE, NY.- American Modernist Alexander Calder ‘s kinetic mobiles are brilliantly engineered, three-dimensional works that rely on careful weighting to achieve balance, movement, and suspension. They revolutionized the concept of sculpture. At the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, SUNY, his mobile The Red Ear is suspended over the staircase to the second-floor galleries, and Snake on Arch, a bronze sculpture, is installed in the museum’s modern and contemporary galleries. Yet, it was in his lesser-known early drawings, prints, and paintings where Calder first explored color, space, and movement. Fifteen of those works are on view at the Neuberger Museum from January 29-May 17, 2020 in Calder from the Collection, an exhibition of drawings and paintings by Calder that are housed in the museum’s extraordinary collection of 20th century American art.

“We are thrilled to share a selection of those works with the public in Calder from the Collection,” says Tracy Fitzpatrick, Director of the Neuberger Museum of Art, noting that in 1945, Roy R. Neuberger first purchased an untitled gouache painting on paper by Calder, that the artist had created the previous year. It was among the first works by Calder to enter the permanent collection of the Neuberger Museum in the early 1970s. Since that time the Museum’s collection of works by Calder has grown significantly, with works representing all of the various media in which Calder worked, including sculpture, prints, and paintings. “He is one of our favorite modernists whose work has inspired generations of artists and museumgoers,” Fitzpatrick adds.

Included in the exhibition are reproductions of six prints from The Circus portfolio that are based on drawings Calder created of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1931-32. At the time, he worked as an illustrator for the National Police Gazette, a sports and entertainment paper. He was captivated by the circus and saw it as a noisy extravaganza of exaggerated movements and boisterous physical humor. His drawings showed the antics of suspended tightrope walkers, rebellious clowns, ferocious animals, lively acrobats, and entertaining side-show artists.

Calder’s drawings did not contain color or shading; did not use chiaroscuro to build volume. However, his mastery of balance and line ensured that each drawing stood on its own as a successful complete work of art. These drawings enabled him to experiment and put movement into figures that could fly through the air with the greatest of ease. “I [was examining] color, space, and composition,” he once wrote, “and the relationship of bodies in space.” His explorations continued in other media as well. Although the forms in the hundreds of paintings he later created were abstracted, the bright colors and playful composition were a far cry from most of the abstract art beginning to be produced by artists in the United States in the 1930s. Calder employed similar techniques in many of the lithographs he made. Included in Calder from the Collection are several lithographs that employ strong colors and geometric forms – triangles, swirling forms, apple forms, spirals, and disks
Mainly, one sees the foundation he built for his later mobiles and stabiles. “Calder was the one who made art move, believing that an object had to have energy,” Helaine Posner, Chief Curator, explains. “He was taken with the idea of the abstraction of space, and believed that two-dimensional art was too static to reflect our world of movement. When he shifted to kinetic art, his view that ‘an object has to have energy’ was fulfilled.”

The popularity and the appeal of Calder’s graphic imagery cannot be overestimated. That reputation has spurred a number of projects about which he knew but with which he either participated minimally or not at all. These works fall into a category the Calder Foundation refers to as misattributed. Examples are owned by many museums, including the Neuberger Museum of Art. In 1964 the magazine Art in America published offset lithographs of drawings that Calder created of circus imagery in 1931 and 1932. These works are widely known and exhibited, yet, strictly speaking, they were executed neither by the artist’s hand nor under his supervision. “We show them here in order to explain the ways in which ideas around authenticity can be complicated and in fact change with the passage of time,” Dr. Fitzpatrick says.

Throughout his career, Alexander Calder (1898–1976) retained the imaginative perspective he enjoyed as a child, when he began sculpting animal forms with the encouragement of his artist parents. He did not, however, set out to become an artist. Rather, he trained as an engineer, receiving a degree from the Stevens Institute of Technology in 1919. In 1923, Calder moved to New York, where he pursued a career as an artist, studying at the Art Students League with Thomas Hart Benton, George Luks, Kenneth Hayes Miller, and John Sloan. In 1926 he moved to Paris, where he studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, and became well-known among the avant-garde for his beloved Cirque Calder, an improvisational ensemble performance of small animal and structural forms made out of everyday materials, now in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. Calder returned to the United States in 1933 with his wife, Louisa James, and moved to Roxbury, Connecticut, where they raised his family and he pursued his career.

Calder from the Collection is organized by the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, SUNY, and is curated by Helaine Posner, Chief Curator. Generous support for this project is provided by the Friends of the Neuberger.

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