Happy birthday Alexander Calder!

Notes on the Exhibition 'Calder Lightness' at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation May - September 2015

Calder's birthday was July 22, (or maybe August 22) in 1889.  I am taking this as an occasion to write about an extraordinary exhibition of his work last year at The Pulitzer Arts Foundation.  ‘Calder Lightness’ was one of three exhibitions which reopened the Pulitzer after being closed to construct additional exhibition space.  Tadao Ando, the architect for the original building, created new exhibition space within his 2001 design.  

The Calder exhibition that was part of the reopening is a striking example of what art and architecture can do for each other. As you entered the building you were greeted by a diminutive early Calder sitting on a low base.  His early works may not yet evolved the flight of the later mobiles but they did have all the wit, balance and spacial presence of the later work.

Several large mobiles filled the stair hall, illuminated with rich natural light Tando Ando infused into the spaces.  In the Pulitzer, Ando worked with every kind of light, indirect and diffused, reflected, even crisp, high contrast sunlight beams at some well controlled slices within the building.  

Seen on axis, they mobiles were perfectly spaced, each with enough distance to be experienced on its own terms, yet close enough to others to form a grander composition. Photographs of Calder's own studio show that, at times, he had created this overlapping, energetic effect with a number pieces in limited space.  At the Pulitzer they align along the long axis of the upper hall. The Calders can be viewed individually from the side and when viewed on axis, they overlap and formed a delightful  vista. 

Additional individual pieces were displayed in galleries, sometime by themselves. This provided a viewer the chance to walk around the Calder, to see it within a space that fills. The shear number of Calder works assembled for the exhibition was one of its strengths.  They came from around the world and I was very happy to see his mobile for the Terrace Plaza Hotel in Cincinnati Twenty Leaves and an Apple, 1946 was included as a loan from the Cincinnati Art Museum. 

Sorry to be telling you about this wonderful exhibition so long after it’s gone but you can see the photographs on the Pulitzer Arts Foundation site at: Calder Lightness

On a final note, museum design has a long history of wrestling with the question of balance between the museum’s artistic presence and the obligation to present works of art to their best advantage.  How much design, aesthetic character, personally and point of view can an art museum have while still enhancing the work of artists displayed within? The answer is a lot as the Calder exhibition at the reopened Pulitzer Arts Foundation showed so beautifully.  

Paul Muller, AIA