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Whitney Museum: "Alexander Calder: The Paris Years, 1926-1933" Brochure

Whitney Museum: "Alexander Calder: The Paris Years, 1926-1933" Brochure

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Published by whitneymuseum
When Alexander “Sandy” Calder (1898–1976), arrived in Paris in 1926, he aspired to be a painter; when he left in 1933, he had evolved into the artist we know today: an international figure and defining force in twentieth-century sculpture. In these seven years Calder’s fluid, animating drawn line transformed from two dimensions to three, from ink and paint to wire, and his radical innovations included openform wire caricature portraits, a bestiary of wire animals, his beloved and critically important miniature Circus (1926–31), abstract and figurative sculptures, and his paradigm-shifting “mobiles.”

The Whitney has the largest body of work by Alexander Calder in any museum and is proud to be the exclusive American venue for this landmark exhibition, co-organized with the Centre Pompidou.
When Alexander “Sandy” Calder (1898–1976), arrived in Paris in 1926, he aspired to be a painter; when he left in 1933, he had evolved into the artist we know today: an international figure and defining force in twentieth-century sculpture. In these seven years Calder’s fluid, animating drawn line transformed from two dimensions to three, from ink and paint to wire, and his radical innovations included openform wire caricature portraits, a bestiary of wire animals, his beloved and critically important miniature Circus (1926–31), abstract and figurative sculptures, and his paradigm-shifting “mobiles.”

The Whitney has the largest body of work by Alexander Calder in any museum and is proud to be the exclusive American venue for this landmark exhibition, co-organized with the Centre Pompidou.

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Published by: whitneymuseum on Sep 16, 2008
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05/09/2014

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When Alexander “Sandy” Calder(1898–1976) arrived in Paris in1926, he aspired to be a painter;when he left in 1933, he had evolvedinto the artist we know today: anforce in twentieth-century sculpture.animating drawn line transformedfrom two dimensions to three, fromink and paint to wire, and hisradical innovations included open-form wire caricature portraits, abestiary of wire animals, his belovedand critically important miniatureCircus (1926–31), abstract andparadigm-shifting “mobiles.”
 
PArIS: A FAmIly legACy
Alexander “Sandy” Calder (
1898–1976
),just shy o twenty-eight years old, arrivedin Paris in July
1926
by way o England,making the transatlantic journey byworking on a reighter. Both o his parentswere artists who had studied in Paris. Inthe
1890
s his mother, Nanette Lederer(
1866–1960
), a painter, attended theAcadémie Julien and the Sorbonne aterher studies at Philadelphia’s PennsylvaniaAcademy o Fine Arts; his ather, sculptorAlexander Stirling Calder (
1870–1945
),studied at the Académie Julien and theÉcole des Beaux Arts, ater also training atthe Academy. Following their individualtrips, they met at the PennsylvaniaAcademy, where she again was studyingand to which he had returned rom Paristo become an instructor o anatomy.Calder’s sister Margaret (known as“Peggy”) wrote, “amily legend has it thatFather and Mother met over a cadaver.”
1
 They married in
1895
, and returned toParis or a short time. Peggy was born inParis in
1896
; Sandy was born two yearslater in Lawnton, Pennsylvania.Calder’s paternal grandather, Alexan-der Milne Calder (
1846–1923
), had alsovisited and worked in Paris and studiedat the Pennsylvania Academy; he wascelebrated in the
1890
s or his colossalpublic sculptures, among them a
36
-ton,
27
-oot-high gure o William Penn,installed atop Philadelphia’s City Hall in
1894,
which remains a landmark today.Working on sculpture commissions in-volved requent travel or Calder’s ather,who at times relocated his amily as well,and intermittently experienced nancialinsecurity. His son was not initially drawnto a lie’s work as an artist.Calder had heard o the proessiono mechanical engineering rom aschoolmate at high school in SanFrancisco. Ater graduating, he attendedthe Stevens Institute o Technologyin Hoboken, New Jersey, where hestudied engineering principles thatwould have important implications orhis later sculptures. Calder received hisdegree in mechanical engineering romStevens in
1919
and held numerousengineering-related and other odd jobsbetween then and
1922
, but none wasvery satisying. During a hiatus betweenjobs in
1922,
he took night classes indrawing in Manhattan. “I became veryenthusiastic—more so than in any othero my post-college ventures so ar—and Iattended consistently,” he later recalled.
2
 The ollowing year, ater the last o thesejobs at a logging camp in Independence,Washington, Calder returned East tostudy at New York’s Art Students League.
NeW york: SeeINg the CItyWIth “SANdy” CAlder
Between
1923
and
1925
Calder studiedlie and pictorial composition with JohnSloan, portrait painting with GeorgeLuks, head and gure painting withWilliam Pène du Bois, and lie drawing
with Boardman Robinson.
3
Caldercredited Robinson or encouraging histalents in drawing with a single line, atechnique in which the drawing implementdoes not leave the paper. His acility at linedrawing led to his newspaper illustrationwork or the
National Police Gazette
, the
New Yorker
, and the
New York Times
,among
others. Calder’s fuid drawingenlivened the renderings o animals thathe made during visits to New York’sCentral Park and Bronx zoos (g. 1)and that were published in his teachingmanual
Animal Sketching 
(
1926
), orwhich he also wrote the texts.
Like his teachers, Calder took as hissubjects scenes rom everyday lie. Heexhibited in group shows in New York,including a painting o a circus sideshowin an early exhibition at the downtownWhitney Studio Club, a precursor to theWhitney Museum o American Art. Hiscity views reveal his engineer’s eye and ananity or movement—ideas he woulddevelop in new materials and new orms inParis. There his drawn line, transormedto lengths o ordinary wire, would becomewhat he called “wire sculpture (or three-dimensional drawing).”
4
 
ArrIvAl IN PArIS
Calder gave ew reasons or his decisionto go to Paris; simply put: “Paris wasthe place to go, on all accounts o practically everyone who had been there,and I decided I would also like to go.”
5
 Paris during the
1920
s—“
Les AnnéesFolles
” (the crazy years)—was a citystill recovering rom the great loss o lie and economic devastation o WorldWar I yet it remained the abled city o many liberties—social, sexual, political,racial, and cultural. By comparison,Calder’s homeland o the UnitedStates was, in the “Roaring Twenties,”unharmed by war and experiencing abuoyant economic upswing, but acedincreasing isolationism, racial divides,and conservatism (indeed Puritanism, asProhibition came into eect in
1920
andwasn’t rescinded until
1933
). Once inParis, as we know rom his letters, Calderthought the city a destination or an artistwhose ambition was “to arrive,” andwhere he hoped to exhibit, sell, and gaincritical attention or his work.
Fig. 1. Untitled (Monkey), 1925. Ink on paper, 5 9/16 x 3 3/4 in. (14.1 x 9.5 cm).Calder Foundation, New York
 
Calder had the encouragement o hisparents, and his mother sent him seventy-ve dollars each month. Living was cheap,given an exchange rate highly avorable todollars, i not always easy. Calder initiallystayed in a hotel in Montparnasse—nding his rst home and studio a monthlater. Since arriving in July he had begunto explore the caé lie on the boulevards,especially at the Caé du Dôme, wheremany artists and writers passed their time.He met others at the amous art schoolL’Académie de la Grande Chaumière,where he drew rom the live model. Later,through his
Circus
perormances as wellas in artists’ studios and caés, Calder metcolleagues who would become icons o twentieth-century art as well as lie-longriends, including Piet Mondrian, FernandLéger, Joan Miró, and Marcel Duchamp.The academic drawings in Calder’srst sketchbook stand in stark contrastto the radical qualities o the three-dimensional “drawing in space” he beganto make in Paris. Wire toys or his ownamusement, lie-like wood sculptures andwire animals, and gures and mechanismsor his miniature
Circus
were all inprogress by Fall
1926
. By then he hadalready begun to study French, with a“grand old lady,” Calder wrote, “whotaught Mark Twain orty years ago” andhad also coached Whistler.
6
 Throughout his career, Calder wasresponsive to images and events aroundhim. One o his rst wire sculptureswas o Josephine Baker, recalling thecelebrities he had drawn earlier or the
Police Gazette
. Baker’s public receptionwas tremendous and her image wasubiquitous in Paris. She had become anovernight success upon her
1925
debutin
La Revue Nègre
at the Théatre desChamps-Elysées and was celebrated orher lithe body, minimal costumes, andast-paced Charleston, as well as orthe unbridled sexuality and articialexoticism o a French-invented “Arican”
danse sauvage
duet, which dieredrom the revue’s other vaudeville andjazz numbers.
Though many black Americanperormers had received acclaim in Paris,Baker’s celebrity marked the “Jazz Age,”attracting attention not only there, butinternationally. The response o the Frenchpress was complex and contradictory,but as historian Tyler Stovall explained,“These stereotypes
were overwhelminglypositive. However demeaning they mayseem rom present-day perspectives, inthe
1920
s most black Americans in Pariswelcomed and praised the racial attitudeso their French hosts. The French seemedto regard blackness as something o value, an attitude noticeably absent inthe United States.”
7
Baker appeared in kiosk posters andmagazine photographs; dresses and a haircream, Bakerx, were marketed in hername; and dolls in her likeness were sold.Man Ray, Henri Laurens, Pablo Picasso,Kees van Dongen, and Tsuguharu Foujitapaid her homage, and Calder depicted herin at least ve wire sculptures.Calder’s rst Josephine Baker sculptureis similar in scale to the dolls and toys hehad made earlier and is static on its woodbase. The others are ceiling-suspended.Three o the larger Baker sculpturesalso emphasize spiraling breasts andbelly, while the ourth and latest in date,
Aztec Josephine Baker
(c.
1929
; CalderFoundation, New York), presents aurther geometrically abstracted orm:breasts, arms, and a single wire thatdenes the torso and legs are suspendedrom a single “shoulder” wire. Body partsmove independently o one other as theyare animated by air currents, just as theelements o his later mobiles would.The other o his rst two wiresculptures,
Struttin’ His Stuff 
(
1926
),Calder reerred to as “a boxing Negro ina top hat.”
8
His inspiration might havebeen celebrity boxer and championAlonso Teolo Brown, known as“Panama” Al Brown, a native o Panama
Fig. 2. A page from Alexander Calder’s Scrapbook, 1926–32 (detail).Chinese ledger notebook containing newspaper clippings, 11 x 17 in. (27.9 x 43.2 cm).Alexander Calder papers, 1926–1967, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

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