One of the most beloved American artists of the last century, Alexander Calder reimagined sculpture as an experiment in space and motion. He upended centuries-old notions that sculpture should be static, grounded, and dense by making artworks that often move freely, interacting with their surroundings. Calder’s ever-changing artworks invite a viewer’s sustained attention; over the course of many decades, The Museum of Modern Art provided a setting for this productive exchange.
Alexander Calder: Modern from the Start looks at Calder’s work through the lens of his connection with MoMA, taking as a point of departure the idea that Calder assumed the unofficial role of the Museum’s “house artist” during its formative years. His work was first exhibited at MoMA in 1930, months after the institution opened its doors, and he was among only a handful of artists selected by the Museum’s founding director, Alfred H. Barr Jr., for inclusion in his two landmark 1936 exhibitions, Cubism and Abstract Art and Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism. He was called upon to produce several commissioned works-including Lobster Trap and Fish Tail, a multicolored mobile that hangs in the same stairwell for which it was made in 1939-and his sculptures have been a mainstay of the Museum’s galleries and Sculpture Garden ever since. Following a loose chronology, the catalogue presents examples from the full scope of Calder’s work, from the earliest wire sculptures of the 1920s through the largescale mono- and polychrome stabiles and standing mobiles of his later years. An essay by curator Cara Manes traces Calder’s rich relationship with MoMA, fueled by new research from the archives of the Museum and the Calder Foundation.