Alexander Calder’s Moving Sculptures at the Rijksmuseum
Starting today, June the 19th, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is hosting one of the most exciting temporary sculpture exhibitions in Europe for the year. The exhibition staged mainly in the museum’s ‘outdoor gallery’ is the largest ever outdoor show of Alexander Calder‘s works. ‘Calder at the Rijksmuseum‘ includes fourteen pieces displayed in the open air and four others inside the museum. With the exception of one of the pieces, the general public can freely access the works on display, making the likelihood for reaching a broad public even better.
Collecting Alexander Calder’s works in one place – famous for his large-scale sculptures – is a difficult task, making this exhibition a unique opportunity to study some of the sculptor’s best abstract works all during a pleasant stroll through the Rijkmuseum’s open-air gallery. The 18 works visiting Amsterdam are from different corners of the world, six coming from his native United States, another six from Paris where the artist was active during a large period of his life, and the remaining one third of the works are coming from different places across Europe.
Alexander “Sandy” Calder (July 22, 1898 – November 11, 1976) was destined to become an artist, coming from a family where his mother was a professional portrait artist and both his father and grandfather famous sculptors in his home-state of Pennsylvania. Somewhat surprisingly, Calder first chose to study engineering instead of what would’ve been the more logical art-path to take. Towards his late 20s he was drawn back to the arts though and determined to become a painter he moved to Paris. While also painting, Calder initially showed especially great skills working with steel wires: he was designing toys, animals, three dimensional portraits and even characters for a miniature circus.
While being successful in that field, it was when he stepped over to sculpting that his major breakthrough came. The big change came in 1930 when Calder visited Piet Mondrian‘s studio in Paris, which left a deep impression on the young engineer-turned-artist. Inspired by Mondrian’s primary colours, he soon started to develop an interest for moving coloured shapes, often involving motorised constructions, where his mechanical engineering skills came in handy.
Also being close friends with many of the big avant-garde names of the era, like Marcel Duchamp and Jean Arp, Calder got heavily influenced by the artistic world around him. While never actually being part of any of the art movements of the time, it’s easy to spot for instance the influences of Miró and Matisse on his works. Opting to explore his own ideas, his unmissable characteristic style always remained unique.
Calder’s sculptures can be divided into three categories. Initially he started out by constructing mobiles, free hanging works suspended from ceilings, light constructions with movement in focus. When he started experimenting with large-scale constructions, his stabiles came into focus, works where large-scale dynamic structures rest on stable, often made of black-painted metal sheets. Perhaps most famously, the combination of the two – the standing mobiles – made his name immortal. Works most commonly brought into movement by the force of the wind, mixing the large-scale constructions of the stabiles with the free moving mobiles resulted in dynamic structures continuously playing with the imagination.
Unique Large-scale Endeavour to Amsterdam
The uniqueness of this exhibition is resulting from the difficulty imposed by the scale of the works. While this is the Rijksmuseum‘s inititative, the person making it all possible is the exhibition’s guest curator Alfred Pacquement, the former director of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Convincing other institutes to lend out pieces from their collection during the most popular months of the year isn’t a straight-forward task, especially considering the large gap they leave behind. An added complexity of the project is the scale of the works, making transportation an added challenge of the project. The pieces visiting Amsterdam are coming from museums, private collections and in one case from the UNESCO Works of Arts collection from its headquarters in Paris.
Calder’s legacy today is enormous, being considered one of the most celebrated inventors of modern sculpture and a forerunner in the kinetic art movement. He was also a very productive artist and his works can be found all over the world, although few places display more than maximum a couple of his large-scale pieces; a fact also underlining the uniqueness of this exhibition.
The modernist sculptor’s to date largest outdoor show is currently on at Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, free for the general public and it can be enjoyed until the end of the “extended” Dutch summer: October 5th.
Please visit back to our site for an upcoming article about the life and career of Alexander Calder, to be published later this summer, also including featured works from this exhibition.
If you would like to know what else is going on at Rijksmuseum and many of the other great venues in Amsterdam, please have a look at our Amsterdam exhibition guide for current events.