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Butterflies and elephants

The sculptures of Alexander Calder, which so impressed Einstein, go on show in Amsterdam

Olivia Weinberg | May/June 2014

Alexander Calder (1898-1976) trained as an engineer, and it shows. As a boy he made eccentric toys and animals, displaying skill and craftsmanship from the off. In 1930, after visiting Mondrian’s studio in Paris, he tried a new kind of sculpture—an intricate, scientific procedure, relying on balance and counter-balance. “I wish I had thought of that,” said Einstein.

Calder’s sculptures fall into two categories. First, the mobiles, as Duchamp called them: flat, abstract shapes attached to skinny wire rods that jut out at irregular angles, they speak a language of their own. A gust of wind sends them into a frenzy; a gentle breeze lets them dance. They are owned by the space they inhabit, which means that they mimic life.

If the mobiles are butterflies, the stabiles are elephants. Made of huge sheets of metal, they soar into the air with great force. “Tripes” (1974), is a towering biomorphic mass with tentacles curling everywhere. “Caliban” (1964), is a powerful creature—half scary, half comical. But the stabiles remain light and dynamic, the work of a man with a careful, technical touch.

Calder’s late works are among the few truly successful examples of urban art, so they sit comfortably in city centres. Their next gig is in the stunning gardens of the Rijksmuseum, where 20 vibrant works will join the deckchairs and coffee kiosks. Einstein would have loved it. ~ Olivia Weinberg

Alexander Calder Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, June 21st to Oct 5th

 

EXHIBITIONS AT A GLANCE

Mondrian and His Studios (Tate Liverpool, to Oct 5th). Neat, geometric paintings with sharp lines and Bauhaus blocks of colour...but there is more to Mondrian. Here is a life-size replica of his Paris studio and a chance to play him for the day.

The Scandalous Art of James Ensor (Getty, LA, June 10th to Sept 7th). Ensor’s late paintings are satirical, peculiar, sometimes grotesque and quite unlike his early works. This show explains the shift. “The Temptation of Saint Anthony”, 1887, is a highlight.

Unedited History: Iran 1960-2014 (MoMA, Paris, to Aug 24th). A peep into recent history through the beady eyes of a new generation.

For Your Eyes Only: A Private Collection, from Mannerism to Surrealism (Guggenheim, Venice, to Aug 31st). Brueghel, de Chirico, Dalí, Man Ray, Warhol: the extraordinary collection of Richard and Ulla Dreyfus-Best. Expect the best of the best (from the Bests).

Made in Mexico: The Rebozo in Art, Culture & Fashion (Fashion and Textile Museum, London, to Aug 30th). A rebozo is the hand-woven shawl made famous by Frida Kahlo, a staple in Mexico and now a statement piece that has inspired contemporary designers.

El Greco and Modern Painting (Prado, Madrid, June 24th to Oct 5th). El Greco may have been taught by Titian, which makes sense. His big religious works, rich in colour and chiaroscuro, have a vivid power.

Jeff Koons: A Retrospective (Whitney, New York, June 27th to Oct 19th). Oddly, his first big exhibition in New York. Better late than never? Discuss.

Theatre of dreams, theatre of play: nō and kyōgen in Japan (Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, June 14th to Sept 14th). Delve into the enchanted world of traditional Japanese theatre with masks, costumes and musical instruments dating back to the Edo period. ~ OW

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