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Art Review: Alexander Calder

Eric Wilcox

Alexander Calder was an American sculptor best known for his large mobiles – kinetic sculptures that use simple air currents to bring life to line, color and shape. A Calder sculpture is instantly recognizable by its awkward geometric shapes delicately balanced on long spindly wires, giving it an almost skeletal look.

Calder was born in 1898 in Lawton, Pennsylvania. He earned an engineering degree in 1919 and after a series of engineering jobs, he moved to New York City to pursue a career in the arts. It was there that he met painter Piet Mondrian and was struck by the power of pure abstraction. Line, color, form – these are the elements of art that became instrumental in Calder’s development into the artist we know today.

But while Calder’s mobiles are his signature contribution to art history, the Wichita Art Museum is showing a different side of Calder. From their permanent collection, the museum offers a stunning selection of Calder tapestries and lithographs.

The array of tapestries demonstrates a stylistic leap forward in American Modernism and refreshes the gallery space with bold colors and geometric shapes. In the adjacent gallery, visitors can find the selection of Calder’s exquisite lithographs, accompanied by a maquette of one of his large, red mobiles.

Both galleries provide an excellent presentation of Calder’s breadth of work, and show the versatility of his lyrical abstraction across several mediums. In this relatively small exhibition, the Wichita Art Museum gives a quiet flex of its muscle by providing a glimpse into the depth of the museum’s Modernist holdings.