Calder and Abstraction

Calder and Abstraction

A quick post on LACMA’s Calder exhibition. It’s a good show and worth going to. At the same time, Calder is one of those artists who is so familiar to us that I can’t recommend making a special trip just for these.

That said, I loved the presentation here. The gallery is filled with alcoves which allow for each piece to breathe. At SFMOMA in 1998 it felt like things were too jammed together. Calder’s pieces have such presence that they need their own space in order to not compete with each other. LACMA allows them to do that.

There’s also just enough air movement in the gallery to allow everything to move without tempting people to blow on things. The only choice I’m questioning is the lighting since they managed to avoid a lot of shadows. For the purpose of this exhibition (emphasizing the abstract forms) that may be the correct choice. But I’ve always loved the shadows that Calder pieces project as well.

The exhibition does a nice job at placing Calder in context art history-wise by mentioning the influence of people like Miró and Duchamp* as well as discussing the postwar public art movement and how giant monumental abstract sculptures because such a thing.

*Who coined the term “mobile.”

As I wandered through I found myself appreciating the balance between the abstract forms and the way the lines flow together. I also must have had the Monterey Bay Aquarium on my brain* since  so many of the mobiles remind me of kelp and the aquarium logo.

*As I also thought of it while viewing Turrell that day.

My main interests though were in looking at Calder’s construction. It’s so simple that it borders on being crude. The mobiles are held together without welds as the wire is pretty much just shoved through the metal. Things are just cut out of sheet metal, deburred, and painted. The result is almost inspiring in a sense of “I should go and try making this kind of thing myself” kind of way.

The maquettes for the massive public stabiles are also extremely interesting from a construction point of view. In this case, they don’t have the same ribbing and construction details as the final pieces. Kind of shocks me that Calder didn’t spec that out. At the same time, looking at the maquettes provides some guidance into what details mattered to Calder and which ones did not.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

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