Thursday, April 14, 2011
A couple of weeks ago, I went to see "Calder's Portraits: A New Language" at the National Portrait Gallery, and I loved it.
Most people are familiar with Alexander Calder's mobiles, but he also made many other types of sculptures, toys, jewelry, and painted throughout his career. This exhibit features his wire sculpture portraits: some caricatures of famous celebrities of the day, like Babe Ruth and Jimmy Durante, others of fellow artists or of himself.
Like most art, these sculptures look quite different in 3-dimensional space. As you move around the portrait, the shapes change and become more abstract. "We can see into and through these portraits; their ever-changing wire outlines and shadows suggest facial expressions in flux, as well as the fluidity of identity itself" (from the exhibit prologue). Indeed, Calder is credited with developing "a new language" of portraiture and of "drawing in space," much like he developed his own form of art with the mobile.
I wasn't allowed to take photos inside the exhibit, but I did buy a couple of postcards of the show. Unfortunately, these images don't really do the sculptures justice. To see better examples, click the Portrait Gallery link above, and to see even more, here's a link to google images.
These postcards have nothing to do with the portrait exhibit. They are, however, images of the most whimsical wonderful thing Calder ever created (and my most favorite). I'm talking about Calder's circus, of course, and I wish I had a time machine so that I could go back to the 1920s and attend one of his performances. He made all of the animals and performers (complete with moving parts) out of wire, metal, wood, cloth, rubber tubing, and other materials. To me, it is the perfect example of Calder's artistic gift, that he could inspire a sense of play and childlike wonder in even the most serious art critics, combining mechanical engineering and artistic skill with imagination, humor, and fun.