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Local library treasures

January 18, 2010

Lately I’ve thought a lot about hanging mobiles. I’ve got a few around the house, most of them home-made and I’m always amazed by how they can kind of  hook you, if you know what I mean, with their slow, ever-changing spatial relationships (if they work well, which isn’t the case with all of my prototypes).

So the other day I decided to go back to the source and read up on the man who was once (in his own biography!) described as The Sculptural Playboy of Modern Art, Alexander Calder.

The only book my local library carried was so old that the librarian actually apologized after returning from a back room with a mouldy folio published in 1971, but I loved Ugo Mulas’ beautiful black and white photos of Calder working in his studio and those of his many hanging mobiles (and his monumental sculptures, the stabiles).

Calder (1898-1976) was the first artist to introduce the concept of movement into sculpture. Influenced by Mondrian’s art he created large suspended constructions of delicately balanced rods, wires and metal plates, set in motion either mechanically or by air currents. It was his mate Marcel Duchamp who, during a visit to the studio sometime around 1931, saw the floating sculptures and coined the term ‘mobile’ – something that moves.

Early on the engineer-turned-artist did a lot of the cutting and welding himself, but when he started creating his massive public art sculptures (some of them 15 metres high and with traffic driving through them) he would draw a design and make the maquette which was then enlarged under his close supervision.

Apparently he loved to laugh and dance around and make jokes (in his ‘eternal red shirt’) and Calder’s work, so full of humour and poetry and bursting with creativity, has been hailed as a triumph of human spirit over technology.

It makes me wonder, if Calder hadn’t done his thing, would we have hanging mobiles? What would they be?

Snow Flurry mobile from 1953

Kennedy Airport, New York 1957

His lovely Five Wings in construction

Trois Aisles installed in Falcon

The only other book the library held on hanging mobiles, was a Create-your-own-mobile-masterpieces of which my favourite was The Big Breakfast, but that’s for another post.

(Ok then, yes, it did include a hanging papier-mâché piece of bacon. Now you’re intrigued..hehee)

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