• Steven Heller

Calder’s Mobile Mind Over Matter

In late 1964, the Guggenheim Museum held a retrospective of Alexander Calder, called Alexander Calder: A Retrospective Exhibition, which, according to Sarah Haug on the Guggenheim blog in 2013, “by all accounts, was a crowd-pleaser. The retrospective included Calder’s circus, stabiles, and a new mobile, Ghost, gracefully hanging from the rotunda dome.”

That famous object d’art was the inspiration for Herbert Matter‘s cover for Alexander Calder: A Retrospective Exhibition, a classic example of Matter’s typo-photo montage, with its condensed Bodoni caps spelling “Calder” hanging as though a mobile against an idyllic sky.

The mobile was a big, heavy deal for the museum and its dome, “generating much back-and-forth between Guggenheim administrators and Alexander Calder,” reported Haug. “Official approval for the mobile came from President Harry Guggenheim only two months before the opening of the exhibition. As Calder said in his autobiography, “…I proceeded to make a long trailing mobile to hang in that ice-cream cone of a building, and I managed to keep the weight down to 225 pounds…”

In the introductory essay to the 1964 catalogue, museum director Thomas Messer wrote “Calder, it must be remembered, did not invent motion but rather found a place for it in the expressive vocabulary of art.” The catalogue includes reproductions of his work and a series of photographs of Calder at work in his studio and at home.

Alexander Calder: A Retrospective Exhibition is divided into nine thematic sections containing imagery and short texts address: Drawings, Graphics, Illustration; Toys, Circus, Wire Sculpture, and Jewelry; Wood and Bronze Sculpture; Abstract Constructions; Transition to Motion; Mobiles; Stabiles; Mobile-Stabiles; and finally Paintings and Tapestries, which were the most recent works included in the exhibition.

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