“Calder: Hypermobility” Premieres at The Whitney Museum

“My staff told me not to say ‘this is a very moving show’,” Adam D. Weinberg, Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, jokes at the opening of the museum’s latest exhibit Calder: Hypermobility.

We’re here at the premiere of the exhibit which features assorted works, some never before seen, of the late artist Alexander Calder (1898-1976). Calder is the American artist best known for his kinetic sculptures and mobiles. “Just as one can compose colors, so one can compose motion,” Calder once said. Using this quote as a touchstone, the Whitney has set out to display Calder’s work as it was originally intended: in motion.

“While Calder has been widely celebrated for his radical introduction to movement in sculpture, the kinetic aspect of his work has been especially challenging for museums to present,” Weinberg explains. “You can imagine most museums don’t want people moving the sculptures, touching the sculptures, pushing the sculptures. So we organized this as the first major show to concentrate on exhibiting the works as Calder intended them, with their inherent movement and sound.”

 

Weinberg points to a man standing off to the side in a white jumpsuit, holding a long stick. “We have regular ‘activators’ walking through the galleries who are officially trained to move these pieces. So here we have the opportunity for the first time to see these works brought to life as they were intended.”

The museum has scheduled daily activations of the works at one and two hour intervals throughout the day. This is all made possible thanks to a collaboration with the Calder Foundation and its president Alexander S. C. Rower, who is also the grandson of the artist. Mr. Rower, better known as “Sandy,” is on hand to give his own remarks.

 

Sandy points to a small sculpture off to the side called Two Spheres, a black panel with one small white sphere that goes up and down, and another that goes around in circles. “[Two Spheres] hasn’t run properly since 1931, when it was made,” he tells us. “It had a motor that was altered in 1943 for a show at MoMA, and then it’s never run since. So this is the first time it’s running properly since 1931. It’s such an extraordinary, moving thing for me, to experience that [piece] the way my grandfather intended it to be.”

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In addition to exhibiting Calder’s work, the Whitney has organized an expansive series of performances and events designed to bring contemporary artists into dialogue with the sculptor. “We were interested in people whose practice might lend itself to responding to some of the aspects of Calder’s work [by] thinking about abstract shapes, or thinking about his relationship to sound and music,” explains Greta Hartenstein, Senior Curatorial Assistant.

 

She tells us about artist Christian Marclay. “He’s doing a week-long performance [that engages with] Calder’s Small Sphere and Heavy Sphere, [a sculpture in which] a weighted ball moves around and hits bottles and other objects on the ground.” It creates a score, she explains, and Marclay’s practice involves making scores and inviting musicians to respond to them. “Marclay will activate the sculpture, and then he’s invited [cellist] Okkyung Lee to respond with his cello. Marclay’s also adding some of his own objects to [the sculpture] and then removing them, to add different sound elements.” Small Sphere and Heavy Spherewill also be activated for intimate audiences on a timed schedule throughout the week of Marclay’s residency in July.

Other artists, all with aspects of sound and motion in their work, will be on hand at the Whitney over the next few months exhibiting and performing their own responses to Calder’s work. In August, Jack Quartet, a New York–based string quartet, will perform musical compositions in the gallery alongside the artwork that will draw connections between Calder and composers Earle Brown, John Cage, Morton Feldman, and others. In September, experimental composer and musician Arto Lindsay will host an event focusing on the noisemakers and rattles Calder created after his visits to Brazil in the 1940s. Additionally, musician Jim O’Rourke created an original composition that will be used as a “sound walk,” with elements of jazz, modern composition, and field recordings, that will play in the gallery.

 

In his closing remarks, Sandy Rower says: “To do this—not just to put up some pretty Calders, but to allow your staff to go beyond and come up with smart ideas that are so richly fulfilling, where people will come and have an experience they really didn’t expect to have—that is extraordinary. Not all museums could do that.”

For a full listing of artists and performances, as well as more details on Calder: Hypermobility, head to whitney.org.

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