Alexander Calder's 'Minimal/Maximal' traces dynamics between size, scale and space

Kinetic sculptures in the exhibition Alexander Calder: Minimal/Maximal are in harmony with the architecture of their display at Nationalgalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Feb 11, 2022

To celebrate the dynamics between size, scale, and space dominant in the canonical oeuvre of the Alexander Calder, Nationalgalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin presents the art exhibition Alexander Calder. Minimal/Maximal. The exhibition curated by Joachim Jäger, Udo Kittelmann, and Maike Steinkamp is realised in close collaboration with the Calder Foundation, New York. The American Modernist Calder’s abstract kinetic art sculptures - from miniature to monumental scale - are in a lyrical harmony with the architecture of the museum designed by German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. It is worth mentioning that aesthetic sensibility practice by the contemporaries Calder and Mies van der Rohe casts a profound influence on American Modernist architecture and art, which is still emulated by experts in the same fields.

Le Cagoulard, 1954, Sheet metal, wire, and paint, Alexander Calder | Alexander Calder, Minimal / Maximal | STIRworld
Le Cagoulard, 1954, Sheet metal, wire, and paint Image: David von Becker, Courtesy of 2021 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Ludwig Mies van der Rohe / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021

Speaking with STIR about the curatorial approach to let the works have an unrestrained conversation with the architectural settings of the Neue Nationalgalerie, Steinkamp says, “When setting up the exhibition, we made sure that the individual objects could unfold freely in the exhibition space. We have reduced the exhibition architecture to a minimum. In addition, we set some of the sculptures in motion every day so that the objects can enter into an active dialogue with the surrounding space and the visitors.”

Louisa’s 43rd Birthday Present, 1948, Sheet metal, wood, wire, felt, cigar box, and paint, Alexander Calder | Alexander Calder, Minimal / Maximal | STIRworld
Louisa’s 43rd Birthday Present, 1948, Sheet metal, wood, wire, felt, cigar box, and paint Image: Courtesy of 2021 Calder Foundation, New York / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

When steel production was on the rise in the 1950s, it offered the artist an opportunity to play with the design and scale of his craft. Large scale installations including Les Trois Ailes, Les manTriangles and Five Swords testify the same. The colour, form, scale and movement of the sculpture forge an interactive dialogue with the audience. The works in motion by Calder at the glass hall of Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin have been installed with an experimental approach to allow the viewers to lead an immersive experience around them. To note, the principle of openness integral to the architecture of Mies van der Rohe is also reflected in the complexity of Calder’s work.

Alexander Calder in his Roxbury studio | Alexander Calder, Minimal / Maximal | STIRworld
Alexander Calder in his Roxbury studio Image: Herbert Matter, Courtesy of 2021 Calder Foundation, New York / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

The interactive installations by Calder are not simple sculptures in situ, but as an ‘active medium’, they are made keeping the viewers in mind. Irrespective of the size of the sculptures, the viewers experience their sense of space having a twist as they walk around the museum. The works such as Blizzard, Otto’s Mobile and Le Cagoulard embedded with kinetic quality are in the constant journey to alter the given architectural setting of their immediate house. The small sculptures outside their conventional cases are put on the display in such a manner that they seem to be in a performance. This manoeuvres the viewers to have an open engagement with the work and relook at the changing surroundings around them. An array of the facsimile chess sets, published by Cahiers d’Art in collaboration with the Calder Foundation on the occasion of this exhibition, is made available to chess-playing visitors.

Five Swords, 1976, Sheet metal, bolts, and paint, Alexander Calder | Alexander Calder, Minimal / Maximal | STIRworld
Five Swords, 1976, Sheet metal, bolts, and paint Image: David von Becker, Courtesy of 2021 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe / VG-Bildkunst, Bonn 2021

Even if the conceptual themes of abstract art and minimal art play an immensely important role to define the form of the sculptures, it was the social engagement that Calder pursued through his works. Steinkamp mentions, “Calder was one of the first artists to actively involve the viewers in his work – he was making them participants by inviting them to actively interact with his objects. This social participation is a central aspect of Calder work and this is, in my opinion, what makes Calder's work still relevant to contemporary artists today.” During the opening days of the exhibition, the visitors could behold the beauty of the Calder BMW Art Car painted with radiant colours with a sensitive emphasis on organic forms. The automobile served as another art installation to underscore the kinetic quality of the works by Calder.

Untitled, 1954, Sheet metal, rod, bolts, and paint , Alexander Calder | Alexander Calder, Minimal / Maximal | STIRworld
Untitled, 1954, Sheet metal, rod, bolts, and paint Image: David von Becker, Courtesy of 2021 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe / VG-Bildkunst, Bonn 2021

Calder’s journey as a contemporary artist is rooted in the thought to create art as a way to invite the audience to explore the multiple possibilities around it. The pieces made in the hands of Calder look for inclusion – in terms of engagement with the audience – rather than exclusivity exuded by the elitist arts. This is a common ground running between the arts of modernist sculptor Calder and architect Mies van der Rohe: open the world for conversation. Steinkamp opines, “The exhibition is surely the unique experience of the described aspects of Calder's work in the strict architecture by Mies van der Rohe's Neue Nationalgalerie, which can only be experienced here.” With this, the exhibition aims to have viewers arrive at a similar point of interaction with the art sculptures in an effort to shift their trained perspective on architectural settings. 

3 Segments, 1973, Sheet metal, rod, wire, and paint, Alexander Calder | Alexander Calder, Minimal / Maximal | STIRworld
3 Segments, 1973, Sheet metal, rod, wire, and paint Image: David von Becker, Courtesy of 2021 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe / VG-Bildkunst Bonn, 2021

The exhibition Alexander Calder: Minimal / Maximal runs at Nationalgalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin until February 13, 2022.

Chess Set, 1944, Wood and paint, Alexander Calder | Alexander Calder, Minimal / Maximal | STIRworld
Chess Set, 1944, Wood and paint Image: Tom Powel, Courtesy of 2021 Calder Foundation, New York / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

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