Calder: The Conquest of Space: The Later Years: 1940-1976 (Knopf, 2020) is the second and final volume of Jed Perl’s exhaustively researched recounting of a deeply influential, big-name modernist’s very big life.
The new book follows Perl’s first volume, Calder: The Conquest of Time: The Early Years: 1898-1940, which was published in late 2017. Perl, the former, longtime art critic for the New Republic, spent more than a decade researching and writing his comprehensive biography of Alexander Calder. In this volume, the ideas and achievements of an artist who, the author argues, played an essential role in inventing the art of the 20th century have been discerningly documented — and critically assessed — as never before.
Calder — who was known to his friends and everyone in the art world as “Sandy,” his boyish nickname — was born in Philadelphia in 1898 to artist parents who had met while studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. His father, Alexander Stirling Calder, was a sculptor who revered Rodin and whose public works include a statue of George Washington on the arch in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park. Sandy’s paternal grandfather, a Scottish-born immigrant to the US, had also been a sculptor; his well-known monuments include the statue of William Penn atop Philadelphia’s City Hall.
Since his childhood, Calder had been an inveterate tinkerer, always skillful and clever with a pair of pliers and a spool of wire; artistic by nature, he laid a valuable practical foundation for his future work by majoring in engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. Then, in the 1920s and early 1930s, like his parents in their younger years, Calder spent some formative time in Paris, where he fell in with a legion of artists and writers who would help shape the ethos, attitudes, and styles of modernism. The plasticiens (visual artists) among them had worked their way through the aesthetic-technical issues that Cubism had thrown up earlier in the century. All were eager to develop their own new modes of expression.
Calder’s encounter with Piet Mondrian at the Dutch painter’s studio in Paris in 1930 brought the young American an epiphany: in examining the older modernist’s geometric compositions, whose rhythmic energy belied their austere, static forms, Sandy realized that his own art — rigid, stationary sculpture — might also, somehow, become animated — literally, if not only suggestively. For Perl, that breakthrough discovery provides the main key to understanding the evolution of Calder’s revolutionary art.
Calder: The Conquest of Space: The Later Years: 1940-1976 picks up the thread of Sandy’s life story and career trajectory at a crucial moment. With World War II brewing, the artist left Paris for the United States, where he and his wife Louisa, a grandniece of the writer Henry James, purchased an 18th-century farmhouse in western Connecticut (though his deep, abiding ties to France would lead him, in the 1950s, to set up a second residence and an ever-expanding studio in the Touraine region, southwest of Paris).
Calder, Perl notes, had been too young to be drafted to serve in the first world war and, later, was considered too old for the second. During the 1930s and 1940s, Sandy and Louisa’s Connecticut home became a gathering place and refuge for a steady stream of artist and writer friends fleeing the Nazis and the chaos of the war in Europe.
Both in Connecticut and during his routine forays into nearby New York City, Calder crossed paths with André Masson, André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, and Arshile Gorky, among others, as well as such established, local cultural figures as the architect-designer Frederick Kiesler, the curator James Johnson Sweeney, the collector and art dealer Peggy Guggenheim (he made her an outlandish bed headboard), and the writer-editor Malcolm Cowley. Some of these creative confrères became the Calders’ close, lifelong friends.
Sandy and Louisa’s lives became deeply informed by their treasured, diverse, international community of friends and professional associates, and, later, by their travels to other parts of the world. They both spoke French capably enough, even if Calder, a bear of a man who sometimes appeared to withdraw into himself, tended to mumble in any language. He was never a nationalist or an adherent of any religion (his mother was Jewish, which made Calder Jewish, too, according to Judaic law, but he never practiced Judaism). Perl writes, “Sandy had grown up with a Scottish Protestant father in a family where art was the one religion in which everybody believed.”
At his Connecticut home, Calder built a workshop on the foundation of an old barn. Perl notes that, in this rural setting, Sandy, like his nearby neighbor, the émigré Masson, “embraced the fecundity of nature,” and that his surroundings “pushed Calder’s art in new lyric directions.” (Masson, Perl adds, “liked to paint in the nude.”)
Calder continued developing “mobiles,” his signature inventions consisting of delicate cascades of wire and shaped bits of metal, wood, or glass. Normally suspended from the ceiling and moving gently in response to air currents, they never fail to energize the space around them.
A sophisticated, if totally natural and unaffected sense of freedom, playfulness, and sometimes even joy pulses through these works and so many others that Calder created throughout his long career. As Perl observes, as much as the mobiles command the physical spaces they occupy, they are also, unmistakably, self-contained. The artist referred to his various three-dimensional works as “objects,” not as “sculptures.”
Perl writes that “for an artist with an imagination as voracious as Sandy Calder’s, the vigorous imperatives of reality were never far from the equally vigorous imperatives of fantasy.” Although Calder hobnobbed with the European Surrealists, as Perl notes, when it came to “artistic controversies, debates, and turf battles,” he “kept his own counsel.” His art defied familiar labels. “The art of the mobile, after all, transformed a fantasy of matter-in-motion into matter that actually moved.”
Later, he adds: “[Calder] defied many if not all of the conventions of sculpture. The art of the mobile was the art of a verticalist. By making sculpture move, Calder had indeed conquered time.” Reaching beyond the earlier experiments of, say, the Cubists or the Futurists, who had toyed with the theme of time two-dimensionally, Calder brought a sensation of real time unfolding into art, forever transforming sculpture’s expressive power.
Perl recalls Calder’s first retrospective exhibition, which took place at the Museum of Modern Art in 1943; it affirmed the uniqueness of his contributions to modern art’s still-evolving language. Some of Perl’s most engaging passages are those in which he finds meaning in his subject’s working methods or analyzes certain aesthetic issues that emerged from Calder’s oeuvre.
About the sculptor’s Constellations series of the 1940s, a group of small, freestanding works that employed bits of walnut, maple, or mahogany, Perl observes, “To work in wood was to embrace a substance that already had a mysterious life of its own.” Later, he notes that the subsequent, younger generation of modern artists — whose celebrated, postwar existential angst fueled gutsy Abstract Expressionism — dismissed Calder’s art. For them, aesthetically, it felt too lightweight.
Nevertheless, whether representing the US at the Venice Biennale or creating large-scale public works — Duchamp suggested that Calder call them “stabiles,” a French word whose meaning was the opposite of “mobile” — Sandy spent the decades until his death in 1976 making his mark around the world.
With large steel “objects” that seemed to have landed from outer space in such places as Spoleto, Italy; Mexico City; Chicago; and Jerusalem — even as, curiously, they integrated neatly with their surroundings — Calder redefined the meaning of monumental sculpture in the modern age. Implicitly employing the language of abstract form, these massive, oddly shaped creations subtly evoked history, humankind’s relationship with nature, and other themes that resonated with the inhabitants of the cities in which they were installed.
In a poetic-sounding remark about his mobiles in the catalogue of a 1941 exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery in New York, Calder wrote, “How can art be realized? masses, directions, limited spaces within the great space, the universe…” Describing his then-novel works, he concluded, “…abstractions which resemble nothing in life except their manner of reacting.”
If that artist’s statement sounds like mumbling-in-print, Perl’s assessment of the grand lesson to be gleaned from the artist’s work and career is more lucid. Of Calder’s enduring achievement, he writes:
[He] took his place among the generations of modern artists, beginning with Rodin, Cézanne, Brancusi, and Picasso, who reconsidered what it meant to create life. No longer were the figures in a painting or a sculpture what really mattered. Now what mattered was the life of the work of art itself.
Calder: The Conquest of Space: The Later Years: 1940-1976 (2020) by Jed Perl is published by Alfred A. Knopf.
Visit the city's tiniest art gallery: Five things to do in Saskatoon this weekend – Saskatoon StarPhoenix
In an effort to help Saskatoon residents share art with one another, Suzy Schwanke has created the Free Little Art Gallery YXE outside her home at 332 Hilliard St. E.
Whether you’re interested in art, a virtual party, some outdoor activities or cleaning up around the house, there’s a little bit of something for everyone this weekend in Saskatoon.
1. Visit the Free Little Art Gallery
In an effort to help Saskatoon residents share art with one another, Suzy Schwanke has created the Free Little Art Gallery YXE outside her home at 332 Hilliard St. E. Designed in the style of community libraries and kitchen boxes, visitors to the gallery can take a piece of art, leave a piece of art, or do both. You can check out some of the artwork on Instagram @Freelittleartgalleryyxe.
2. Hit up The Bassment’s virtual party
Featuring the music and talents of eight Saskatoon bands, The Bassment presents InTune 2021 — a free online party playing from 2 to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The shows will be streamed live through the Bassment’s Facebook and YouTube pages.
3. Check out local performers
Watch as some of Saskatoon’s performing artists share their work in Episode 1 of Persephone Theatre’s Open Stage, which was published earlier this month. The episode is available to watch whenever you want at persephonetheatre.org and features Peace Akintade, Kathie Cram, Amanda Trapp, Sketchy Bandits, Carla Orosz and Ellen Froese.
4. Have some family fun
The Fuddruckers Family Fun Centre (2910 8th St. E) is open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Sunday, weather permitting. Families can practice their skills on the 18-hole Putt N’ Bounce miniature golf course, reach new heights on The Rock climbing wall or take a swing at the Grand Slam batting cages. More information is available at fudds.ca or by calling 306-477-0808.
5. Drop off your hazardous waste
The City of Saskatoon is holding its first Hazardous Household Waste Drop Off of the year on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Civic Operations Centre (57 Valley Rd.). The drop off is open to Saskatoon residents from residential properties only. Products eligible for drop off include aerosols, automotive fluids, batteries, cleaners, light bulbs, yard chemicals and more. Learn more at saskatoon.ca/hazardouswaste.
The news seems to be flying at us faster all the time. From COVID-19 updates to politics and crime and everything in between, it can be hard to keep up. With that in mind, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix has created an Afternoon Headlines newsletter that can be delivered daily to your inbox to help make sure you are up to date with the most vital news of the day. Click here to subscribe.
YK ARCC celebrates 10 years by pushing for NWT art gallery – Cabin Radio
Its trailer doubles as one of the NWT’s only art galleries. Now, the Yellowknife Artist-Run Community Centre is turning 10 years old.
The group, YK ARCC for short, formed in 2011 in a downtown Yellowknife church scheduled for demolition. “There was always something going on,” recalled Métis artist Rosalind Mercredi, owner of the city’s Down to Earth Gallery, who was YK ARCC’s first president.
“I think it was so good to be able to have a space where people wanted to work on stuff and, if they had bigger projects they wanted to do, there was a space to do it. It was pretty vibrant times, I would say, for art.”
Though the organization stayed in the church for less than a year, it has brought art and shows to Yellowknife since. Temporary homes have included an apartment above a Vietnamese restaurant and empty spaces in the Centre Square Mall.
Casey Koyczan, a Tłı̨chǫ artist from Yellowknife pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Manitoba, held some of his first shows with YK ARCC’s help.
“It really helped to be able to show work within an environment that was conducive to more of a fine arts aesthetic as opposed to … a coffee shop, or a pub, or something like that,” said Koyczan, who was on YK ARCC’s board.
“YK ARCC felt like it was getting to more of a formal-exhibit kind of feel.”
‘We need a territorial gallery’
The group made headlines shortly after opening a mobile art gallery in a trailer. At the beginning of the pandemic, the team took art to residents by accepting reservations through Facebook then driving the gallery to make house calls in different neighbourhoods.
“Because it’s so small, we might be the only gallery in Canada that didn’t have to close,” said longtime board member Sarah Swan. “It has a limited capacity. We knew we could still operate it safely.”
Yet the trailer’s success simultaneously illuminated what YK ARCC’s members believe is a glaring deficiency in the NWT: the absence of a territorial gallery.
The cost of rent makes it difficult for the non-profit to hold on to one space for any length of time. Many of the spaces that are available in Yellowknife don’t work well for art shows.
“We need a territorial gallery,” former board member Dan Korver said.
That doesn’t mean a commercial gallery geared toward profit, he clarified. Instead, Korver wants a space where artists can show their work and engage with an audience “for art’s sake.”
The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre is the only large-scale, non-commercial, gallery fitting that bill in the NWT. It hosts two fine art exhibits a year.
“It’s just simply not enough,” said Swan. “There are so many more artists and so much more work out there to show, so many more ideas.”
“We created the mobile gallery in the first place to feel that exhibition gap, but also, we created it to be a piece of agitation in itself. That’s why we called it the Art Gallery of the Northwest Territories.
“It’s really pathetic that our territorial gallery is a trailer. We all joke that if there ever is a real gallery of the Northwest Territories that’s not in a trailer, we’ll happily give the name back.”
Koyczan described obstacles in establishing his career that stemmed directly from the lack of a territorial art gallery.
“Back when I was showing at YK ARCC, it wasn’t recognized by the Canada Arts Council,” he said. “Therefore, when you go to apply for grants and funding … and you provide your CV saying that you showed work at YK ARCC, they check their records and say the show basically didn’t exist because they don’t recognize it as a legitimate gallery.
“I’ve had to work really hard on exporting myself and making artwork that is impactful so that, regardless of where I was located, it would be recognized by people in the south, or around North America, or internationally.
“The NWT needs a contemporary gallery. It’s just holding us back, not having that space.”
‘No GNWT mandate’ for a gallery
In a written statement to Cabin Radio, the territorial Department of Education, Culture, and Employment said it has no plan to create a territorial gallery.
The department said it “does not have a mandate to create physical infrastructure for the arts.”
“However,” the response continued, “the GNWT would be happy to work with regional organizations to see how the GNWT can support their plans.”
Korver believes government involvement in creating an artist-run centre or non-commercial gallery should be limited to provision of funding, so any gallery can remain community-driven and independent.
“We need that physical space, but how do you run it?” he wondered. “Is it better to just provide a grassroots organization – or organizations, maybe there shouldn’t just be one – with stable funding so they can provide those spaces and run those spaces?”
More spaces that can host art are on the way.
Makerspace YK moved into the old After 8 pub this January and is planning workshops and exhibits. The City of Yellowknife expects to open a visitor centre in the Centre Square Mall that would include art displays.
Meanwhile, the territorial government is set to release its updated NWT Arts Strategy this June. The previous territorial arts strategy, released in 2004, had identified a need for more arts spaces.
As a gallery owner, Mercredi said she is curious to see how the strategy is implemented.
“You can make a strategy but if the plan doesn’t have an implementation idea behind it, then really just sits,” she said. “How do you implement it when most of the arts organizations don’t have enough infrastructure or people to put those things together?”
Swan said YK ARCC will continue to run its mobile gallery while celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Members have applied for funding to run a series of “emerging curator workshops.”
“Art is our passion,” Swan said. “I think there’s just this drive to share.
“Because we know how good art can be, or how amazing and fully developed it can be, we want to fight for that. We want to try to grow the art community in Yellowknife.”
Imaginations, creativity of Mountview students on display at Cariboo Art Beat
Creative, imaginative artwork of students from Mountview Elementary School will be on public display at the gallery of Cariboo Art Beat until April 9.
“The students of Mountview elementary were all invited to participate in an art contest,” Tiffany Jorgensen said, an artist at Cariboo Art Beat.
Each class was separately judged by three professional artists at Cariboo Art Beat, Jorgensen said, based on the students’ creativity, techniques, use of space and originality.
“It was extremely difficult to select pieces from the abundance of beautiful art presented,” she said. “There is so much talent and fantastic imaginations.”
The artist of each selected piece was given formal invitations to their art show to distribute to whomever they choose, and Jorgensen said anyone is free to view the beautiful artwork throughout until April 9.
Honoured at the show were works from local artists Ryker Hagen, Annika Nilsson, Rylie Trampleasure, Angus Shoults, Izabella Telford, Isabella Buchner, Kai Pare and more.
“Come view their wonderful pieces to get a glimpse into the minds of our creative youth,” Jorgensen said.
“It’s been so fun. The kids have come in and seen their work on display with their grandparents, parents, and they’re all so excited.”
Following up on the success of the Mountview art show, Jorgensen said more elementary schools have been invited to participate.
April will feature the works of Nesika and Big Lake, followed by Marie Sharpe and Chilcotin Road next month.
Cariboo Art Beat is located at 19 First Ave., under Caribou Ski Source for Sports’ entrance on Oliver Street.
Source:– Williams Lake Tribune – Williams Lake Tribune
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