'Calder Now': contemporary artists reimagine Alexander Calder's legacy

A constellation of artists at the exhibition Calder Now at Kunsthal Rotterdam reinterprets the oeuvre of the modernist sculptor to build multisensory experience for the audience.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : May 06, 2022

To recognise American modernist sculptor Alexander Calder's influence on contemporary art, Kunsthal Rotterdam in the Netherlands is presenting Calder Now. The exhibition presents 20 sculptures by Calder along with the works by 10 prominent contemporary artists including Olafur Eliasson, Žilvinas Kempinas, Simone Leigh, Ernesto Neto, Carsten Nicolai, Roman Signer, Aki Sasamoto, Monika Sosnowska, Sarah Sze, and Rirkrit Tiravanija. The exhibition is realised in close collaboration with guest curators Dieter Buchhart and Anna Karina Hofbauer, and the Calder Foundation. Calder, known for revolutionary artistic innovations, moved successfully to create the fourth dimension of time – an addition to the three spatial dimensions. He defied the conventional understanding of the sculpture when he first removed it from the “pedestal to suspend it in mid-air”. The exhibition underscores his indomitable legacy that continues to be a repository of inspiration for contemporary artistic practices.

It happens when the body is anatomy of time, 2000, Installation, Ernesto Neto | STIRworld
It happens when the body is anatomy of time, 2000, Installation, Ernesto Neto Image: Ossip van Duivenbode, Kunsthal Rotterdam

The artists with the art exhibition distil conversation and interpretations from Calder’s oeuvre to create a multisensory experience for the viewers. Eva van Diggelen, curator, Kunsthal Rotterdam, in an interview with STIR mentions, “The unique Calder Now exhibition is enabling us to add a new chapter to the narrative of modern and contemporary art.” The exhibition puts at the display Calder’s iconic mobiles and stabiles as well as the gravity-defying installations by contemporary artists. The optical experience for the viewers is built on the acute themes – light and reflection, humble materials, the senses, sound, activation, architecture, ephemera, gravity, performance, and positive and negative space – pertinent to the body of work created by Calder. 

Olafur Eliasson, Black and yellow double polyhedron lamp | Calder Now | STIRworld
Black and yellow double polyhedron lamp, 2011, steel, colour filter, mirror and LED lights, Olafur Eliasson Image: Ossip van Duivenbode, Kunsthal Rotterdam

The guest curators Buchhart and Hofbauer talk about the long and intense process that preceded the exhibition, “The idea of tracing Calder's revolutionary artistic legacy in contemporary art was born more than 10 years ago. Anyone who has ever dealt with Calder's incredibly vast oeuvre will agree that it bursts with artistic genius. He found and explored an incredible range of radically new ideas leaving behind a substantial artistic echo that radiates into contemporary art. We set ourselves the task to trace, explore, and condense this in all its facets. Each of the participating artists and each contemporary work on display demonstrate this resonance in a unique and fascinating way.” The constellation of contemporary artists under the umbrella of Calder’s legacy was assembled with an acute curatorial sensibility to, “show strong and exceptional artistic positions that function as a group and in relation to Calder that make his ground breaking impact visible,” further inform Buchhart and Hofbauer.

Curators Anna Karina Hofbauer and Dieter Buchhart and Kunsthal business director Herman van Karnebeek at the opening of the exhibition Calder Now at Kunsthal Rotterdam  | STIRworld
Curators Anna Karina Hofbauer and Dieter Buchhart, and Kunsthal business director Herman van Karnebeek at the opening of the exhibition Calder Now at Kunsthal Rotterdam Image: Fred Ernst

A few of the works were specifically created for Calder Now, for instance, the accessible and participative piece Untitled 2021 (le jeu de l'araignée rouge), 2021 by Thai contemporary artist, Rirkrit Tiravanija. In the exhibition space, the billiards table with one white, one yellow, one blue and multiple red balls, is placed to invite the audience to play the game. If social engagement was a crucial theme to the art practice of Calder, then Tiravanija with his work has strived to bring people together to have an intimate dialogue. 

The German musician and visual artist Carsten Nicolai complicates the given processes of time, sound and space. For this exhibition space, Nicolai presents the installation pionier I. A continuation of the play between the natural and artificial setting of the environment - key to his work -  pionier I has a sizeable, white silk parachute which blows up by a wind machine. 

Installation view, Calder Now, Kunsthal Rotterdam | Calder Now | STIRworld
Installation view, Calder Now, Kunsthal Rotterdam Image: Ossip van Duivenbode, Kunsthal Rotterdam; Courtesy of Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Brazilian contemporary visual artist Ernesto Neto with his large-scale installations made out of both organic and inorganic material activates the five senses to let the viewers have an immersive and sensory experience around the work. The installation It Happens When the Body is Anatomy of Time - stretched from floor to ceiling – reasserts the relationship between body and space as the participants walk through the diagonal columns made out of lycra tulle sacks filled with fragrant cloves, cumin and saffron. 

The Icelandic-Danish artist, Olafur Eliasson, observes natural phenomena such as light and reflection to feed his research on the theory of perception. The installations Black and yellow double polyhedron lamp and The lost compass by Eliasson invite the viewers to have a sensorial experience around them only to realign their sense of space-perception. 

If the exhibition spins a multi-layered web of artistic connections, then the multisensory art experience expounded by Calder is an integral part of the exhibition. The curators dwell on this, “From the beginning, Calder dealt with aspects such as performance, energetic activation, and chance. In addition, there are aspects such as sound, space, monumentality, movement, and participation, to name but a few. Our goal was to rediscover these aspects in the works of contemporary artists. The result is an exciting array of connections that emerge between the works in the exhibition. The audience is invited to discover them, make connections and thus be an active part of the exhibition.”

pionier 1, 2011, Installation, Casten Nicolai | Calder Now | STIRworld
pionier 1, 2011, Installation, Casten Nicolai Image: Ossip van Duivenbode, Kunsthal Rotterdam

Just as art is a means to pave the way for social engagement for Calder, Buchhart and Hofbauer see “the audience is an active part of the exhibition, not just passively guided through the show but completely free to engage, explore and discover.” The exhibition refrains in offering prefabricated meanings but opens an exploratory space to anchor an individualistic perspective on the diverse works. 

The exhibition Calder Now runs at Kunsthal Rotterdam in the Netherlands until May 29, 2022.

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