Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review – Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture at Tate Modern from 11th November 2015 to 3rd April 2016

Exhibition Review – Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture at Tate Modern from 11th November 2015 to 3rd April 2016


Tate Modern presents the UK’s largest ever exhibition exploring the work of Alexander Calder who is considered to be one of the most original artists of the 20th century and  pioneered kinetic sculpture. Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture brings together approximately 100 works to reveal how Calder helped transform sculpture from a static to a dynamic form.


 Alexander Calder was born into an artistic family, his father and grandfather were sculptors and his mother was a painter. Although he showed artistic talent as a child he eventually trained as a mechanical engineer before attending some painting courses at the Arts Students League in New York. It was in Paris in the 1920s where he began to develop his wire sculptures, these sculptures eventually became labelled as ‘mobiles’, a term first coined by Marcel Duchamp to describe Calder’s motorised objects.

The exhibition begins by considering Calder’s time in Paris between the first and second world wars, Paris at this time was the first port of call for many budding artists and sculptors. Calder showed his great originality by producing figurative wire portraits of other artists including Joan Miró 1930 and Fernand Léger c.1930, alongside other characters related to the circus, the cabaret and popular entertainment, other highlights include Two Acrobats 1929, The Brass Family 1929 and Aztec Josephine Baker c.1929.

Following a visit to the studio of Piet Mondrian in 1930, Calder began to experiment with more abstract, three-dimensional, kinetic forms and suspended vividly coloured shapes in front of panels or within frames hung on the wall. Works like Red Panel 1936, White Panel 1936 and Snake and the Cross 1936 illustrate how Calder began to experiment with forms in space and the potential for dynamic movement within sculptural forms.

The exhibition includes a selection of his most significant motorised mobiles, Black Frame 1934 and A Universe 1934 which reveals the way that Calder employed some of his skill as an engineer to create movement. Calder also developed suspended sculptures that would move without motors.


In the 1940s and 1950s, Calder went back to his interests in theatre, dance and performance to incorporate elements of choreography and sound to his sculptures, mobiles in this category include Red Gongs 1950, Streetcar 1951 and Triple Gong 1951. The exhibition closes with Calder’s large scale mobile Black Widow c.1948, shown for the first time ever outside Brazil which was very influential for the development of particular artist movements in South America.

Walking around the exhibition is a reminder that a form that is so much part of modern life had its origins  with the work of Alexander Calder. Even amongst the free thinking of the Parisian bohemian quarters, the ideas of  ‘mobile’ sculptures were radical and innovative. Many of the works are playful, attractive and dynamic that create an interesting interplay between the work and the viewer. Calder’s style of work will be familiar to many, even if they do not know the artist’s name because it has widely influenced  other artists up to the present day.

This intriguing and enjoyable exhibition offers a rare opportunity to see a wide range of Calder’s work and to consider his influence on the development of modern sculpture.  His concept of developing ways to allow abstract art to move, radically changed conceptions of how sculpture can be used to be more dynamic.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would like to find out more or buy  tickets, visit the Tate Modern website here

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