More Than Mobiles: Alexander Calder At Tate Modern Reviewed

Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture, Tate Modern ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 72 months ago
More Than Mobiles: Alexander Calder At Tate Modern Reviewed Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture, Tate Modern 4
One of Calder's trademark mobiles. Photo courtesy Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, NY © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2015

It's easy to pigeonhole Calder as the man who made mobile sculptures. But he was a constant experimenter, using found objects and creating a whole scope of works, all based around the concept of motion. Doing such as thing was radical in Calder's time — a time when sculptors worked in traditional mediums such as bronze — and his work was often dismissed as gimmicky.

Calder's work is no mere gimmick though, Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture proves that. His early pieces have a lovely simplicity to them — faces, acrobats and a goldfish bowl are formed out of wire. But it's only on coming across the works of Mondrian and Miro that Calder started to make the signature style mobiles we associate with him now.

These finely balanced constructions respond to the air currents created by our movement and rotate slowly, sometimes imperceptibly so. We can imagine how much more exciting it will be when there are hordes of visitors here — the works coming to life and dancing about.

Calder didn't reply on human movement alone; he made motorised works, and there are several on display. These can't move due to conservation reasons and so visitors are forced to watch videos of the work in motion on a tiny screen. It would have been better to have a projection, or even better, a modern reconstruction of these kinetic works. Calder was all about dynamism, and here, they've turned his interactive work into a museum relic.

Fortunately, the show reprieves itself; Calder's large mobiles end the show and they are superb. Above our heads and all around us, they all spin to their own tune — hypnotising to watch. Picking up speed then suddenly slowing down, everything about their movement feels random. One beast of a work called Black Widow is positively perplexing; how can it move without any obvious force acting upon it?

Though the static nature of many of the works is a tad disappointing, this show is filled with compelling works that will have you gawking up at the ceiling like a five year old. With a few tweaks to bring Calder's works to life, this could be truly spectacular.

Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture is on at Tate Modern from 11 November until 3 April. Tickets are £18 for adults, concessions available.

Also still on at Tate Modern are the re-definition of Pop Art and a turbine hall commission ready to bloom. Over at Tate Britain are the brilliantly layered paintings of Frank Auerbach.

Last Updated 10 November 2015

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