Site icon Pink House by Rebecca Cole

Dancing shadows. Alexander Calder at the Tate Modern.

My culture fix this week was a fleeting visit to the Alexander Calder show at Tate Modern. Renowned for his iconic ‘mobiles’ Calder’s early work was a revelation to me. He trained as an engineer and it is this grounding in the principles of engineering that allowed him to create his seemingly impossibly balanced kinetic sculptures in his later life. But it was the fragile three dimensional sketches in wire that fascinated me on entering the exhibition.

Alexander Calder at The Tate Modern, London

Photography is strictly prohibited in the exhibition, and rightly so, but this does make life a little difficult when the likes of me want to explain the delicacy of Calder’s sculpted wire forms. I have photographed from the little catalogue given to visitors, a couple of the images, just to give you an idea of what I am talking about, but really nothing beats the real thing. Of course it is the essential three dimensionality of the work that makes it so fascinating; from one angle you are looking at a vague tangle of wires, and then as you move around, it turns into the most wonderful horse, expresssed in the minimum of line, or a pair of entangled circus acrobats performing their act, arms and legs akimbo!

Alexander Calder. Tate Modern, London

As I moved through time in the exhibition my imagination was caught by Calder’s development into the astrological forms. these delicate pieces of line/wire work are so fragile, yet monumental in their simplicity I was drawn to opening my well thumbed note book and start sketching. So, you see, there is good reason for banning photography after all; it makes us lazy artists get out that trusty pencil and paper again!

Sketch of Calder sculpture, Tate Modern
Sketch of Calder sculpture, Tate Modern

And of course, once you start, it’s hard to stop!

Moving into the next chronological section of the exhibition were the famous suspended ‘mobile’ sculptures. I half expected to be underwhelmed by these, having encountered them so often in books and art history lectures, but no, this was a whole new experience. The fragility and subtlety of these pieces was breathtaking in its gentleness. I had expected hard, wiry forms, but the wire is so fragile that in some pieces, such as ‘tightrope’ the forms seem to hover mid-air, poised to make their next flight.

Tightrope. Alexander Calder. Tate Modern

Throughghout the galleries I was struck by the importance, not of the physical sculptures themselves, but of their effect on the light and space surrounding them. The shadows change with a constant evolution, the sculptures themselves are often in continuous motion and the emotional waves that emanate from these pieces made me feel quite wobbly myself at some points!

A brief, certainly not intellectual, review of this exhibition is my encouragement to all, if you have the chance, to see the work for yourself if ever you have the chance!

Section of suspended mobile sculpture by Alexander Calder. Tate Modern
Tate Modern, exhibition brochure
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