Special “Eye” to Watch
June Mattingly // contributing art writer

The Nasher Sculpture Center presents
“Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art:
Form, Balance, Joy” on through March 6

Over 30 sculptures spanning Alexander Calder’s well-appreciated career (1898-1976) are shown
along with the work of seven contemporary artists whose work is connected to this American’s legacy
as an unbelievably important modern sculptor and painter still today. Calder gave the world free-
floating, graceful and delicately balanced constructions of wire and biomorphic shaped discs
painted in primary colors or black.
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Three Bollards (Trois Bollards), 1970 - Painted steel
137 x 114 x 137 in.  Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection
At age four Calder posed for his father’s sculpture “The Man Club” now in the
Metropolitan Museum and he completed his first sculpture, a clay elephant.
Calder’s parents always reserved a cellar studio for their son. Trained as an
engineer, industrial draftsman and cartoonist, he attended the Art Students
League in New York where one of his assignments was sketching a circus, the
inspiration for the miniature “Cirque Calder.” It eventually filled five suitcases
and allowed Calder to hold performances of a real circus on both sides of
the ocean; it was particularly popular with the Parisian avant-garde. (Often
it is on view in the Whitney Museum entry.) While living in Paris he befriended
Joan Miro, Jean Arp, Piet Mondrian and Marcel Duchamp all of whom
influenced his work.  
“The Spider,” 1940, painted sheet metal and steel rod, 95 x 99 x 73 in,
Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection
Alexander Calder - Chat-Mobile (Cat Mobile), 1966
Painted sheet metal and steel wire 20 x 26 x 26 in. (50.8 x 66 x 66 cm)
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, The Leonard and Ruth Horwich Family Loan; EL1995.10
By the end of 1931 Calder moved on to sculptures which derived their motion from
the air currents in the room (“mobiles”) to self-supporting, static abstract sculptures
dubbed “stabiles” (a “mobile” with an inert base). By the 1950s he concentrated
on producing monumental outdoor sculptures all of which were made from a model
in a factory with Calder overseeing the operations. In 1969, his monumental bright
red stabile “La Grande Vitesse” (43 x 55 x 25 feet) in Grand Rapids, Michigan came
into being, notable for being the first public art in the United States to be funded
with federal monies granted from the new National Endowment for the Arts under
its “Art in Public Places” program.         

Calder died in 1976 soon after his retrospective opened at the Whitney. His ironically
titled “Bent Propeller” was standing in front of the World Trade Center when it was

Deceiving simplicity and soothing whimsicality are among the enhancing qualities
of a Calder; he wanted the child in everyone to come alive and forget worldly cares.

This exhibition, organized by Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art re-establishes
Calder's significance and for the first time defines him as a source of inspiration for a
new generation of artists—Martin Boyce, Nathan Carter, Abraham Cruzvillegas,
Aaron Curry, Kristi Lippire, Jason Meadows, and Jason Middlebrook. These artists
take cues from this master in the creative reuse of industrial materials, and
explorations of form, balance, color, and spatial relationships.
"Alexander Calder's “Spider” is one of the most beloved sculptures in the Nasher
Collection,” said Jeremy Strick, Director of the Nasher.” Made of painted sheet
metal and painted rod and assembled with rivets and bolts, it measures 95 x 99
x 73 inches.  It is truly one of his key works in the world in a museum, the others
being in such museums as the National Gallery of Art and the Museum of
Modern Art. “Three Bollards,” 1970, of painted steel (137 x 114 x 137 inches),
also in the Collection, is one of his first stabiles.  

Since 2003, the Nasher Sculpture Center has dedicated itself to the display and
study of the Patsy and Raymond Nasher Collection of modern and contemporary
sculpture. The 55,000 square foot building in the Dallas Arts District was designed
by the world-renown architect Renzo Piano and the two-acre adjoining garden
was designed by the respected landscape architect Peter Walker. This world
famous collection includes Donald Judd, Willem de Kooning, Anish Kapoor,
Mark di Suvero, Giacometti, Ellsworth Kelly, Matisse, Henry Moore, Claes
Oldenburg, Picasso, Richard Serra, David Smith and James Turrell.