Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture

Alexander Calder in his Roxbury studio, 1941 Photo credit: Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, NY © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2014
Alexander Calder in his Roxbury studio, 1941 Photo credit: Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, NY © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2014

The first major retrospective of the work of Alexander Calder (1898-1976) in the UK opens at Tate Modern on 11 November 2015. Calder was one of the truly ground-breaking artists of the 20th century. He is known for his invention of the mobile and, as a pioneer of kinetic sculpture, played an essential role in reshaping the history of modernism.

Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture, will reveal how performance was a driving force in Calder’s sculpture and explore his use of other media including drawing, design, film and theatre. It traces the evolution of his kinetic vocabulary, from his initial years entertaining the artistic bohemia of inter-war Paris with performances of Calder’s Circus, to his later life, when he became hugely popular for his mobile and stabile sculptures.

The show will feature Calder’s figurative wire portraits and depictions of characters related to the circus, the cabaret and other mass spectacles of popular entertainment. A unique selection of his most significant kinetic works will be presented, with which he created three-dimensional forms by suspending abstract, vividly coloured shapes in front of panels or within frames hung on the wall. They exemplify the artist’s continuous experimentation with forms in space and the potential for movement to inspire new sculptural possibilities.

Mobile circa 1932 Alexander Calder 1898-1976 Lent by Mary Trevelyan 1992
Mobile circa 1932 Alexander Calder 1898-1976 Lent by Mary Trevelyan 1992


Calder conceived his sculptures as performers whom he animated with the help of air currents, mechanical motors or touch. He is credited with inventing the mobile, a term first coined by Marcel Duchamp to describe Calder’s works made of wire and sheet metal with elements that can be set in motion. The exhibition will include a careful selection of the most significant mobiles and stabiles, open frames and motorized constructions along with sculptural devices that evoke elements analogous to what he referred to as ‘ballet-objects’ devised ‘independently of dancers, or without them altogether’.

Calder also collaborated with choreographers, designing performance objects, decor and costumes for theatrical spaces, with scores by renowned contemporary composers. The exhibition will present material from these important collaborations. Calder reinvented the possibilities of form in a way that offers a close parallel with theatre and dance. The exhibition will demonstrate how he incorporated elements of movement, choreography and sound to fundamentally shake the principles of modern sculpture.

Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture is curated by Ann Coxon, Curator, Displays and International Art, with Vassilis Oikonomopoulos, Assistant Curator, Collections International Art, Tate Modern, and organized in close collaboration with the Calder Foundation. The exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue presenting fascinating new research material and by a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

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