Alexander Calder’s Mobiles Fly At The Whitney

by flaunt

Alexander Calder. “Aluminum Leaves, Red Post” (1941). 2017 Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Alexander Calder. “Aluminum Leaves, Red Post” (1941). 2017 Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Alexander Calder's sculptures were made to move.

The kinetic sculptures are made of fine pieces of wire, sometimes attached to painted shapes of metal or wood. Though they are meant to be seen in motion, art museums around the world have them installed in a sedentary state. This is understandable— the fragile mobiles require prodding to stay in movement, a delicate procedure that requires training.

But the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York is doing just that with its new exhibition “Calder: Hypermobility.” A grandson of Calder’s, Alexander S.C. Rower, trained handlers at the Whitney to activate Calder’s mobiles. These handlers normally work behind the scenes at the Whitney, but the new exhibit has placed them front and center. At the beginning of each scheduled activation time, the handlers arrive at the top floor of the Whitney wearing white smocks and rubber gloves. With either a finger or a wooden stick, they prod the mobile into movement. Activating Calder’s mobiles adds a entirely new dimension to the works. The sculptures rotate, bounce, wiggle, and even emit slight sounds, as the modern jazz music of Jim O'Rourke plays in the background of the gallery.

“You’re actually holding something that has this almost spiritual quality to it,” said Tom Kotik, one of the exhibit's handlers. “Blizzard (Roxbury Flurry)” is one of his favorite sculptures. “It does have this playful side to it,” he said, “but then again, you think about it in terms of the cold and the snow, and there’s almost a — I wouldn’t say grittiness, because snow is not gritty — but there’s a yin and a yang.”


Written by: Helen Murphy

Photo: Jerry L. Thompson, Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, © 2017 Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society, New York