There’s an exquisite piece in the new Alexander Calder exhibition entitled Rat, whose whiskery form only crystallises in its carefully cast shadow. Calder’s distinctive mobiles are instantly recognisable but this beautifully staged show, Calder After the War at the Pace London gallery, makes the viewer consider anew not just the colour and form of these carefully engineered pieces but the importance of lighting and shadow in creating the overall effect.
It is not surprising to learn that Sir Norman Foster is an admirer of Calder’s work. Writing in the catalogue to the show, Foster talks about how his mobiles “share a language of plates, cantilevers, arms, suspension elements and connections – deceptively simple, but wonderfully sophisticated”.
While they can certainly be enjoyed on those terms, their spirit of fun and invention is instantly appealing, indeed Foster also refers to Calder’s great interest in the circus. This show covers Calder’s prolific work from 1945-49, a period which coincided with his return to working in sheet aluminium after a hiatus in the war years when the material was reserved for the war effort.
Calder’s work was transformed by a visit to Piet Mondrian’s studio in 1930 and the artist’s influence is still clear in this immediately post-war work, a combination of mobiles, stabiles, and standing mobiles, The less abstract pieces relating to animal forms are instantly appealing, such as Fish, a single piece of bent wire with a simple suspended red eye. The shadow cast is of another fish angled as if swimming up to the surface. But the larger more abstract pieces, with their carefully balanced compositions of form and colour, reward longer contemplation such as Baby Flat Top, where a large blue horizontal disk is the visual tether for an assortment of appendages. Although the materials in Calder’s work may be industrial, the draws heavily from nature – a crest of feathers, delicate fronds of leaves, the clusters of blooms. Perhaps it’s this contrast, as well as the inherent joy of the colourful kinetic forms, that lends Calder’s work such timeless appeal.
Calder After the War, until June 7, PACE London, 6 Burlington Gardens, London