Go mobile: see ‘Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture’ at Tate Modern


Did you know the mobile, the airy decoration that hangs from a wire above a cot to entertain, placate or soothe a baby, was invented by a world renowned artist? Neither did this blog writer. But you better believe it. Because Alexander Calder was most definitely a world renowned artist – and he most definitely invented the mobile.

So talented was the American-born Calder that he also created giant sculptures (‘stabiles’) erected to grace the entrances of, among others, the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City and the World Trade Center in New York City (the latter now destroyed), as well as designing sets for major theatre productions and producing gouache paintings and thousands of pieces of jewellery. He even painted a BMW sports-car and an entire full-sized airliner.

It’s about time then that an institution so revered for displaying modern art, London’s Tate Modern gallery, should get around to celebrating Calder’s contribution to modernism with a major exhibition of his work. Admittedly, ‘Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture’ (20 November 2015–3 April 2016) focuses primarily on the artist’s mobiles, but you shouldn’t worry because that most definitelydoesn’t short-change the visitor. For Calder’s hanging creations, most created from colourful plates of steel and wire, are beautiful, colourful, entrancing, sometimes ethereal, other times awesome works of art that dance in the air at the merest hint of a tremble in the currents.

Brought up in the United States, Calder travelled to Paris in the 1920s, having originally trained as an engineer, and by 1931 had invented the mobile; a term coined by his friend and fellow artist Marcel Duchamp to describe the delicate sculpturesCalder had created to move of their own accord. Throughout the next four decades he continued to create and experiment, his dynamic works bringing to life the avant-garde’s fascination with movement and bringing sculpture into the fourth dimension.Calder’s kinetic sculptures are now regarded as among the earliest art manifestations to consciously depart from the traditional notion of the artwork as a static object, integrating ideas such as gesture and immateriality as aesthetic factors.

‘Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture’, therefore, exhibits how the artist’s dynamic mobiles bring together motion, performance and theatricality. The first major retrospective for the ground-breaking artist, it assembles many of his major mobiles from around the world, as well as incorporating his film, theatre, music and dance collaborations. No question, this exhibition is a highly anticipated art event in the UK capital.So, if you’re visiting London in the next few weeks or the next few months and at all interested in modernism – and, in particular, modern visual art or modern sculpture – then what better way to spend an afternoon before, or an evening after, a sumptuous meal in one of the many fine restaurants West End London or nearer the Tate Modern on the South Bank than to take in this Alexander Calder exhibition?

Indeed, the press have reacted with great enthusiasm to the exhibition; The Guardian newspaper calling it ‘a surprise and a delight’, The Times newspaper ‘entrancing’ and The Daily Telegraph newspaper referring to it as an ‘exhilarating novelty’. Meanwhile, London’s Evening Standard newspaper, in rewarding the showcase a full five stars in its review, mentioned that Calder ‘forced the public to rethink what sculpture was’, to which the Mail Online website concurs, exclaiming ‘his fusion of sculpture with performance art was ahead of its time’. Elsewhere, The Spectator magazine noted that ‘Calder’s aerial sculptures are unquestionably beautiful: delicately balanced arrangements of forms like fluttering leaves, subatomic particles or celestial bodies, suspended from the lightest possible cat’s cradle of wire’, while the Financial Times newspaper delivered a verdict that’s surely impossible to top in declaring it Britain’s ‘happiest exhibition’.

And, if you’ve never visited the Tate Modern, attending this exhibition will give you the ideal opportunity to discover the extraordinary art space. Located on the banks of the Thames in the vast and starkly awesome environsof the former Bankside Power Station, the building was originally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1947 and opened to immediate acclaim as the Tate Modern in 2000. Since then it has welcomed millions of visitors through its imposing doors – why not be one of them and see the mobile marvels of Alexander Calder?

Venue: Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG
Opening hours:  Monday-Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 10am-6pm; Friday 10am-10pm (last admission 45 minutes before closing)
Transport: Southwark station or Blackfriars station (Tube)/ Waterloo station or Blackfriars station (National rail)
Tickets: £14.50-£18