Exhibition: ‘Alexander Calder: A Balancing Act’ at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Exhibition dates: October 15th 2009 – April 11th 2010


Many thankx to the Seattle Art Museum for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.




Alexander Calder. 'Form against Yellow (Yellow Panel)' 1936


Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Form against Yellow (Yellow Panel)



Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Little Spider
c. 1940


Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976) 'Bougainvillier' 1947


Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Sheet metal, wire, lead and paint
78 x 86 inches
Collection of John and Mary Shirley
© Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Photo: Calder Foundation, New York/Art Resource NY



Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
c. 1948
Silver, silver wire



Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Louisa Calder’s 53rd Birthday Gift
Gold and steel wire


Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976) 'The Y' 1960


Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
The Y


Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976) 'Teodelapio [maquette II]' 1962


Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Teodelapio [maquette II]



Alexander Calder: A Balancing Act on view at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) downtown October 15, 2009, to April 11, 2010, traces the master American sculptor’s work from the late 1920s to the 1970s. Organised by the Seattle Art Museum and curated by Michael Darling, SAM’s Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, the survey features his signature mobiles, stabiles, works on paper and jewellery. Drawn primarily from the Seattle area collection of Jon and Mary Shirley, the exhibition will showcase the wide range of Calder’s interests, abilities, materials and phases during his long and productive career. Accompanying the exhibition will be 44 photographs and a film by Calder’s contemporary Herbert Matter that show his working process in many different studios over the years.

“This will be a singular occasion to appreciate the work of one of the 20th century’s titans of modern art,” said Darling. “The Shirleys’ collection allows us to examine Calder’s variations on themes and scale in a depth that few museums have the opportunity to present.”

The title of the exhibition refers to the artist’s feats of artistry and engineering, as well as his ability to work in many different arenas, from pure abstraction to playful naturalism. Calder was one of the leaders in defining what mattered in 20th-century art, balancing delicacy and the handmade with industrial materials and processes.

Calder’s work is a crucial bridge between abstract painting and sculpture that was taking root in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century and the abstract language being embraced in the US after World War II. The mobiles, in particular, were a giant leap forward in the expansion of artistic possibilities, both for artists and audiences, as their moveable parts ensured that a work was never “finished.” They defy stasis and are constantly, emphatically alive. He also pushed the boundaries of pure colour and bold form to the forefront of aesthetic consideration.


Small-Scale Works in Wire and Metal

Alexander Calder: A Balancing Act features groupings of small standing mobiles that demonstrate how Calder played with variations on certain themes, such as red tripod bases with arcing cantilevers on top. When looking at works such as Black, White, Yellow and Brass on Red (1959) and Polychrome Dots and Brass on Red (1964, see image below), one can imagine them at a gigantic scale, but they are also satisfying at a diminutive size, where the hand-pounding and forming of metal is direct and evident. Some of these spirals and branching forms find direct complements in Calder’s jewellery creations, as well, revealing how fluid his approach was between the two genres. The exhibition includes examples of earrings, bracelets, necklaces, brooches, even a key ring designed and created by the artist. In addition, Alexander Calder: A Balancing Act features several of the artist’s delicate wire sculptures. Often compared to drawings that exist in three-dimensional space, these small-scale works demonstrate Calder’s acuity at balancing his keen artistic sense with playfulness and elegant craftsmanship.


Mobiles and Stabiles

Alexander Calder is perhaps most famous for having invented the fine art mobile. His mobiles and stabiles (or non-moving sculptures) are among his most recognised works, and a number of important pieces in these genres – from smaller maquettes to some of Calder’s largest, monumental works – will be on view in the exhibition. At about eight-feet across, Untitled, a mobile from about 1948, includes organic, leaf-like “paddles” or “leaves” that move gracefully on the breeze, alongside a dangling, abstract carved wood element and a bright yellow circle. The balance of organic and geometric forms makes one think of plants, astronomy or even microbiology, all at once.

Some of the recognised masterpieces in the show include the “standing mobile” (a piece that has moving parts but rests on the ground) Bougainvillier (1947, see image above), and the large-scale, 23-foot mobile Red Curly Tail (1970) from much later in the artist’s career. Eagle (1971) currently in SAM’s collection and on view at the Olympic Sculpture Park is a good example of the later, monumental variants of Calder’s stabiles. Eagle will be part of the exhibition Alexander Calder: A Balancing Act through a live-feed video from the sculpture park and on view in the downtown Seattle galleries.


Photographs and Film by Herbert Matter

Alexander Calder’s working process comes to life in the exhibition through photographs by Herbert Matter that document the artist in his studio. On loan from the Calder Foundation, the photographs span more than ten years in the 1930s and 40s and many different studios and working spaces, revealing the creative chaos of Calder’s working environment, the almost surreal abstraction of having all of that metal and curving wire around and the workmanlike, quasi-industrial feel to the artist’s processes and surroundings. The photographs also document some of his past exhibitions and give museum visitors a sense of how Calder himself liked to display his works. A full-colour film produced by Matter in 1951, with music by John Cage and narration by Burgess Meredith, also gives great insight into Calder’s Roxbury, Connecticut, studio.

Text from the Seattle Art Museum website [Online] Cited 06/02/2010 no longer available online



Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
The Spider



Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Blue Feather
c. 1948



Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Big Red



Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Polychrome Dots and Brass on Red


Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976) 'Eagle' 1971


Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Photo: Ronincmc



Seattle Art Museum Downtown
1300 First Avenue
, Seattle, WA 98101-2003
TTY 206.654.3137

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday 10 am – 5 pm
Closed Monday and Tuesday

Seattle Art Museum website


Back to top

3 Responses to “Exhibition: ‘Alexander Calder: A Balancing Act’ at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM)”

  1. 1 Michael
    September 22, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    Wow, nice post!! I am taking Art appreciation class and i found your post useful to understand this subtle kinetic movement!! thanks

  2. 2 LMV
    March 2, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    I just stubbled upon your blog,
    I’ve always been interested in art, but the field was always too big for me. Your blog actually moved me, changed my way of looking at it and every single topic really creates this instant connection I’ve searched for a while now.
    Thank you

    • 3 bunyanth
      March 3, 2010 at 11:38 am

      Hi Alexandra
      I am so glad that you like the blog – your comments made my day!
      It is really a labour of love. I was just going to all these openings and exhibitions and doing nothing with what I was thinking about art and life.
      So I decided to write about it 🙂
      I just try to have an informed opinion and tell it straight, as I see it. I think this works and people such as yourself seem to appreciate the writing.
      Hope you continue to enjoy!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. If you would like to unsubscribe from the email list please email me at bunyanth@netspace.net.au and I will remove you asap. Thank you.

Join 2,892 other subscribers

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

Follow Art_Blart on Twitter
Art Blart on Pinterest

Blog Stats

  • 12,583,357 hits

Recent Posts

Lastest tweets

February 2010



If you would like to unsubscribe from the email list please email me at bunyanth@netspace.net.au and I will remove you asap. Thank you.

Join 2,892 other subscribers

%d bloggers like this: