Feature

Exhibit of the week: Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy

The exhibit in Chicago displays Calder's work from the 1920s to the 1970s and traces his influence on seven contemporary sculptors.

Museum of Contemporary Art, ChicagoThrough Oct. 17

Chicagoans are already intimately familiar with Alexander Calder’s colorful sculptures and mobiles, said Caryn Rousseau in the Associated Press. Large-scale public works by the artist, “made from boldly painted sheet metal and steel wires,” adorn several of the city’s streets, and the Museum of Contemporary Art has an extensive collection dedicated to the innovative modernist master. The museum’s latest exhibition, though, is much more than a stunning selection of Calder creations, spanning a half-century from the 1920s to the 1970s. It also traces his influence on contemporary artists, introducing viewers to seven young sculptors inspired by the “color, playfulness, engineering, and mobility” of Calder’s best work.

A large part of the show is a “Calder wonderland,” said Lauren Viera in the Chicago Tribune. Several of the artist’s most famous sculptures and mobiles sit in close proximity, “arranged as if in conversation with one another.” Performing Seal, a “balancing act of sheet metal and steel,” seems to reach out toward Finny Fish, an odd, eclectic mobile that incorporates a dazzling variety of “found objects (read: junk).” Calder originally began including such bits of detritus into his art due to a sheet-metal shortage during World War II, finding in them unlikely sources of inspiration. A similarly open-minded aesthetic sense seems to animate Jason Middlebrook, who has created “the most striking” new work in the show—an enormous mobile that incorporates both a tree trunk and “found wood castoffs collected from Chicago’s streets and alleys.”

The best new works here are, like Calder’s own, “deceptively simple, accessible, but at the same time elegant and witty,” said Margaret Hawkins in the Chicago Sun-Times. Of all the artists, Nathan Carter makes the objects that most resemble Calder’s own—elaborate, midair metallic doodles that look “as if he’s drawing in wire, with bits of typography, ‘low-fi’ technology, and a whiff of science fiction thrown in.” Kristi Lippire’s Hanging Garden, a set of chandeliers, incorporates metallic re-creations of every plant in the artist’s garden. “The weirdly beautiful result, soldered together from mostly found metal,” is silly and spectacular all at once. No, it doesn’t look much like a Calder. But it turns out that what really links these artists goes deeper than mere appearances: They all share an infectious enthusiasm and an unpretentious dedication to craft, creativity, and most of all “joy—that sharper, keener cousin to happiness.”

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