Alexander Calder: A Modernist’s Social Network

I have sometimes wondered what some of our great modern artists would do with computers. How would Paul Klee Pablo Picasso, or Miro interact with our current computer technology? The thought doesn’t impact my appreciation and enjoyment of their work but I find it interesting to think about.

The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery has a new show about  the work of the great modernist,  Alexander Calder called Calder Portraits, A New Language. Calder was a well known artist with a long and productive career. The Washington DC area is fortunate to have a number of his works including a wonderful room at the National Gallery of Art devoted to Calder’s work. This show at the Portrait Gallery focuses on one aspect of his work which is fantastic portraits that just happen to be made of wire.

Calder during the early part of his career started making wire portraits and line drawings of his friends, fellow artists and many well known figures of his time.  For example, there is a wonderful large scale drawing of the playwright Arthur Miller. (Calder and Miller were neighbors in Connecticut)

I’ve known about this part of Calder’s work for years but what I didn’t know was that he created preparatory studies for them.  The portraits feel  spontaneous and quick. The studies allowed him to focus on a key feature of his subject and pare the sculpture down to it’s more elementary form.  The results and our enjoyment of them are a testament to his passion and skill as an artists. They are as has been described in a recent Washington Post review full of whimsical intelligence.

I appreciated this window into the personal life of Calder .  The wire sculptures were a means to communicate his experience of his friends and colleagues to the world. They were his network. His tech was wire, paper and his superb eye. That is enough to enchant!

More Information on Calder:

Calder Foundation

Smithsonian Magazine Blog