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The Hypermobile Imperative

Octupus, 1944, bronze, 25" x 35 3/4" x 23 1/2"

The Alexander Calder exhibit entitled Hypermobility opening at the Whitney provides a new perspective on the late artist’s work that offers a touching homage to the artist’s legacy and family who collaborated on behalf of the Calder Foundation with the Whitney team. According to the press release, the works on view are presented how they are intended to be viewed, with respect to motion. Many of the pieces were created with motors, which have been delicately repaired for the show, and give the work a mechanized life and rhythm of motion. For those like myself that have always viewed Calder's works as elegant balances of weight, material, and color, the additional perspective of motion was a delight and revelation.

Triple Gong, c. 1948, brass, sheet metal, wire, and paint, 39" x 75" x 2 3/4"

Two Spheres, 1931, wood, wire, and paint, with motor, 21 1/2" x 11"

The Whitney space heightens the particular specificity of Calder's work, offering a background of the cityscape through windows that flood the exhibition with natural light. The effect gives the viewer an awareness of time passing and the slow rhythmic motions of the pieces, some of which are gently nudged by specially trained Whitney assistants, amplifying this effect. The inclusion of many of Calder's lesser known works is an additional indulgence for those who are particularly fond of his work. The simplicity of line, the balance of color and light, and the gentleness of motion constitutes an almost spiritual experience.

Hanging Spider, c. 1940, sheet, metal, wire, and paint, 49 1/2" x 35 1/2"

In light of the current political climate one cannot help but draw a line from the seemingly tenuous balance of weight in Calder's sculptures to today's racial, environmental, and international tensions which appear equally as tenuous. Such a concept does not seem such a stretch if one considers that Calder was working during and around World War II and was friends with avant-garde artists of the day including Marcel Duchamp. Such influences, which arguably might include the Dada Movement, play out in the whimsy of some of his early works shown in the exhibition.

Red Panel, c. 1934, plywood, wood, sheet metal, wire, and paint, w motors

These artistic influences on Calder's work and the works themselves stand as testament to the value of international collaboration and openness. Calder himself lived and worked in Paris for periods at a time and his work would undoubtedly have been different without the artist friends he made there. Some of Calder's hanging works were also meant to respond to air and it is perhaps this knowledge or the beautiful sway of these works before the eye that make one aware of the changing currents of the times we live in. Of particular note too is the play of light and shadow in the sculptures.

Indeed it is either this scenario of light and shadow, weight and lightness, negative and positive space inherent in Calder's work that repeatedly puts in one’s mind the thought of a flipped coin, heads or tails, or a fork in the road. The choices we make now can and will have dire and important consequences for our future. We have the ability here and now, a plethora of actions and inactions within reach to shape our destiny. And it is this perspective that most personally and conceptually links back to the exhibitions title, Hypermobility.


Jun 9-Oct 23, 2017

Whitney Museum of American Art 99 Gansevoort St

New York, NY 10014

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