New York’s Venus Over Manhattan gallery casts rare works by Alexander Calder in a whole new light
By Pei-Ru Keh
If, like us, you thought you had seen all there is of Alexander Calder, think again. The iconic American artist is the subject of a new exhibition at New York’s Venus Over Manhattan gallery that is uniquely staged in the dark.
Organised with the support of the Calder Foundation, ’Calder Shadows’ is a seductive new take on Calder’s recognisable creations, which still upholds the principles of abstraction and kinetics that he championed throughout his career.
Presented in an austere, dimly lit space, the exhibition sees eleven works, from 1929 to 1974, ingeniously spot-lit so that each accompanying shadow comes fully into view. Delicate mobiles like ’The New Ritou’ (1948) and ’Little Black Flower’ (1944) – a privately held piece that represents Calder’s mature style and has not been exhibited since the 1940s – hang quietly while larger, ominous shadows loom behind. Thin metal wires are transformed into animated line drawings that oscillate and turn with the slightest movement of air, highlighting the kinetic aspect of Calder’s work.
The novel display was inspired by archival images of Calder installing his sculptures in darkness and photographing them using directed light. The images caught the eye of the gallery’s founder Adam Lindemann, who decided to reorientate Calder’s familiar aesthetic. ’I wanted to somehow evoke Calder as I see him,’ he explains. ’I wanted to get in touch with the emotional way that I see these pieces move and stand still.’
In the darkened gallery, even stationary works like ’Mr Loyal (Ringmaster)’ (1967) and ’Red Curlicue’ (1973) have a larger-than-life presence. Both are maquettes, which reveal a little about how Calder sought to resolve scale issues when he designed his monumental stabiles.
Backed by an instrumental soundtrack, ’Calder Shadows’ embodies the qualities of abstraction and exploration that the artist became known for. ’Experimentation is part of Calder’s work,’ says Lindemann. ’There are the films and the performance aspect of the circus [theme], and so the theatricality that I have brought to it is consistent with Calder’s mood and his own spirit.’