London is alive with some truly exciting artist retrospectives at the moment, each of them tending to focus on a particular aspect of their creative output. In the National Gallery, the portraiture of Goya is the focus of a major show, and likewise in the National Portrait Gallery where Giacometti and his drawings are the stars. Meanwhile, over the river in Tate Modern, a retrospective of Alexander Calder focuses on the works which surely made him famous…sculptures which dance, perform and are always on the move: his mobiles.
It’s strange to imagine a world where the mobile, that innocuous moving collection of animals and stars hanging above every respectable baby cot, did not exist. But it was Calder who actually invented this type of sculpture, long before it ever became a favourite of the child’s bedroom, and in doing so Calder showed himself to be one of the first ever proponents of performance art, something which is now such a staple of contemporary art spaces across the world.
In creating the mobile, Calder was looking for a work which moved, and evolved. At first his moving sculptures were controlled, either in the form of puppets which would perform in his own Calder Circus Shows (the likes of which were visited in Paris by some of the biggest names of the 20th century art world), or those carefully choreographed by a series of connected motors and pulleys. But the true mobile, the freely moving construction based on a series of shapes, wires and strings, was created in response to Calder’s desire to free abstraction, and for the bold shapes and colours which he had seen in the likes of Mondrian’s tightly structured geometric works to move about without constraint.
And so were born the sculptures for which Calder became synonymous, and which have cropped up in some of the most culturally enriched open public spaces in the world, including here in Palma de Mallorca, and of course that sensational mobile left by Calder himself by the poolside at the Colombe d’Or Hotel in St. Paul de Vence.
For me, ever so fascinated by the mobiles of Calder, this was truly an exquisite show. I wandered between the mobiles entranced by the poetry in their movements; by the constant slow flow and turns of the wire arms whose many delicate branches create an ever changing and unpredictable dance. And beyond the mobiles, the secondary most beautiful vision were the shadows created on the walls, themselves moving, creating the most beautiful abstract art, albeit free and transitory as Calder would have wished.
It’s a unique opportunity to see so many of Calder’s greatest works in one place, and to understand the revolutionary journey, from canvas to moving mobiles, which prompted him to create these most oscillatory of sculptures.
Alexander Calder, Performing Sculpture is on at Tate Modern, London, until 3 April 2016.