Exhibition: ‘Alexander Calder – The Great Discovery’ at Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Netherlands

Exhibition dates: 11th February – 28th May 2012


Alexander Calder. 'Cow' c. 1926


Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
c. 1926
Wire and wood
8.9 x 20.5 x 9.9cm
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Edward M. M. Warburg



Always one of my favourites. He only needed some wire, a pair of pliers and his own bare hands to create magic. Through life force Calder transfers his energy into the twists and turns of the wire, his will embodied in the kinetic energy of the sculptures. Wonderful to see the early work which I think has more vigour than the later, more flaccid stabiles.


Many thankx to Gemeentemuseum Den Haag for allowing me to post the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.



Alexander Calder. 'Small Feathers' 1931


Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Small Feathers
Wire, hout, lead and paint
97.8 x 81.3 x 40.6cm
Calder Foundation, New York


Alexander Calder. 'Untitled (maquette)' Summer 1976


Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Untitled (maquette)
Summer 1976
Aluminium and painted metal
65 x 72 x 39cm
Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo
Design by Calder, never ultimately executed, for a stabile/mobile to be sited in the sculpture garden at the Kröller-Müller Museum


Alexander Calder. 'Josephine Baker (III)' c. 1927


Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Josephine Baker (III)
c. 1927
Steel wire
99 x 56.6 x 24.5cm
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of the artist



Last year the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag received the prestigious Turing Art Grant for its exhibition concept for Alexander Calder – The Great Discovery. The award has made it possible to go ahead with this huge project and this spring the Gemeentemuseum will present the first major Dutch Calder retrospective to be held since 1969. This relative neglect of Calder is surprising since he used to be regarded in the Netherlands as the most important American artist of the post-war period. Early on, Calder redefined sculpture by drawing three-dimensional figures and portraits with wire in space. Then, in 1930, he visited Mondrian’s studio in Paris, which was to be a turning point in his career. Calder admired Mondrian’s use of space and converted it into his own artistic expression grounded in gesture and immateriality. That realisation and the way it radically changed his work is the key focus of this exhibition.

Alexander Calder (1898-1976) grew up in a family full of creative energy: his father was a sculptor and his mother painted. As a child, he made small sculptures, model animals and jewellery from whatever materials came to hand. Even so, he trained initially as an engineer and did not attend art school until 1923. His technical education would enable him to translate his passion for movement into art; everything he made was kinetic. This was a major innovation: never again would sculpture be seen as necessarily a matter of chisels and blocks of wood or stone.

Between 1926 and 1933 Calder lived in Paris, then the heart of the modern art movement. At this stage, Calder redefined sculpture by drawing three-dimensional figures and portraits with wire in space and he was famous for the regular performances he gave with the complete and complex miniature circus Cirque Calder (1926-1931) he had concocted from everyday materials like wire, wood, leather, cork and scraps of cloth. All the circus figures could be made to move: acrobats swayed across the tightrope, dogs jumped through hoops and the elephant stood up on its back legs.

The central feature of the forthcoming exhibition is a complete reconstruction of Mondrian’s studio in the Rue du Départ. This exhibit marks Calder’s transition from figurative to abstract art: it was his visit to this studio in 1930 that triggered a radical change in his artistic practice. Abandoning his figurative sculptures, he became an abstract artist. He began to add red, black or white discs to his wire and to produce mobiles of increasing size, in which he constantly sought to combine equilibrium and movement.

The exhibition includes a film that was shown in the Netherlands in the early 1930s. Made by Hans Cürlis in 1929, it shows Alexander Calder creating two wire circus figures with no more than a pair of pliers and his own bare hands. Even then, Calder was regarded as the most innovative sculptor because of his novel choice of methods and materials.

Press release from Gemeentemuseum Den Haag


Alexander Calder. 'Acrobats' c. 1927


Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
c. 1927
Wire and wood
87.6 x 22.9 x 30.5cm
Calder Foundation, New York
Gift of Katherine Merle-Smith Thomas in memory of Van Santvoord Merle-Smith, Jr., 2010


Alexander Calder. 'Circus Scene' 1929


Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Circus Scene
Wire, wood and paint
127 x 118.7 x 46cm
Calder Foundation, New York


Alexander Calder. '13 Spines' 1940


Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
13 Spines
Painted steel
195cm high
Museum Ludwig, Keulen


Alexander Calder. 'Untitled' c. 1952


Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
c. 1952
Painted metal
34.5cm high
Private collection



Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Stadhouderslaan 41
2517 HV Den Haag
Postbus 72
2501 CB Den haag
Phone: 070-3381111

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10.00 – 17.00
Closed Mondays

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag website


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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.

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