Alexander Calder: From the Stony River to the Sky
Alexander Calder: From the Stony River to the Sky is the catalog publication that accompanies an art exhibit by the same name, staged in rural Great Britain, 150 miles west of London.
A rustic, bucolic summery scene teeming with humming bumblebees, flittering butterflies, lichen covered alders and minimally manicured meadow grasses is hardly the expected setting for a modern art gallery nor a show of larger than life red sheet metal sculptures. Yet this is exactly the location of Hauser & Wirth Somerset (UK) and its exhibition, From the Stony River to the Sky, honoring the American artist Alexander Calder (1898–1976).
The seemingly odd juxtaposition of modern with rustic is precisely the reason why this pairing works so well: one enhances the other, culminating in a truer experience of the essence of both. The raw, untamed countryside actually fits Calder’s artistic sensibilities like a favorite, durable, well-broken-in calf leather glove. Dam states simply that, “The landscape has a unifying power . . .” The two, the art and the setting, just work well together
Coincidentally, but a fact not ignored by the curators, it was in a similar setting in Roxbury, Connecticut (90 miles north of New York City), where Calder and his wife bought a 1760 farm house in 1933. There they hammered together the makings of a traditional home life with the business of a contemporary creative studio/workshop.
Known for his huge funky metal sculptures that have somehow seen more of the world than most Americans (Hong Kong, Helsinki, Zurich, Barcelona, Paris, Brussels, etc.), all for Calder is not, however, bold and massive. There is plenty of simple and tiny in Calder’s oeuvre. What connects the various sized pieces is a Calder-esque inventiveness. “For every mobile, every monumental public sculpture, every wire portrait for which he is renowned,” writes Holmes, “there is also a humble ashtray, a pragmatic folding table, or an electric toaster that is also Calder devised.”
This exhibition combines famous stately pieces such as Black Beast (1940), La Grande vitesse (1969—still impressive in 1:5 maquette form), Knobs (1976) with decorative lithe mobiles and form-follows-function utilitarian devises like a modified porcelain tea cup, a recycled tin serving tray and a re-fabricated silver baby rattle. His range of creativity was vast and limitless. His mediums were varied and inclusive. All of it is sampled here in Alexander Calder: From the Stony River to the Sky.
Presented in a double portfolio format, the left side of the book, the Alexander Calder side, is highlighted with a rich Spanish orange cover page. It contains two brief but enlightening essays by Dam and Holmes. Dam focuses on the evolving characteristics of Calder’s mechanical interests, production processes, and design inspirations.
Holmes dives into Calder’s personal thoughts, obsessions, and lifestyle preferences and translates them into broader political statements. Both make use of biographical information that rounds out the artist’s intriguing personality. There is a solid sense of the man behind the both mighty and minuscule mayhem.
On the right side of the folio is a midnight black cover sheet that presents the From the Stony River to the Sky catalog plates containing 73 pages of stunning images. Every one of these custom, one-of-a-kind Calder creatives is expertly photographed, treated professionally in the manner of a haute couture fashion model.
Texture also adds to the appeal of the book. The cover paper selection is sturdy with a tooth that begs to be touched. A simple Calder leaf-shaped cut-out in the cover reveals the brilliant orange page behind. The visual combination of the gray, orange and black embossed “Calder” lettering makes a book that readers will gravitate toward.
Hauser & Wirth have prepared a quality, well designed and irresistible item. As big a draw as if they had figured out how to impart the sounds and smells of Calder’s original Roxbury farmhouse atelier, or even the Somerset exhibition space itself, into the catalog’s pages.