Monday, January 4, 2010

Blowing in the wind (or even slight breeze)

Barbara and I went to see the Calder show at Seattle Art Museum yesterday. Our goal was to see both it and the “Michelangelo Public and Private” show but the latter was so crowded we gave it up for a bad job after a quick look and will go back on a weekday before it closes. My initial impression was that it wasn’t as spectacular as I had hoped. There are a few studies and sketches from Michelangelo’s own hand and a spectacular, full-scale photomural of “David”. I was hoping to see some more completely worked up drawings. It seems like the show is more interesting from an art-historical view than from the art itself.

The Calder show, however, was a delight to the eye. There are several of his full-scale works showing, including several of the ones you see in the books. None of them is as big as the giant piece that hangs in the central hall of the National Gallery – but that on is in a class by itself. There is a possibly apocryphal story about Calder that I love. The story goes that a collector/patron wanted to commission a mobile with the vanes made of gold sheet. Calder agreed to do it only if he could paint them flat black. I hope that’s true.
As appealing as the larger works are, my eyes were on the smaller pieces and the wire sculpture. The latter remind me of the very sparse drawings – only a few lines – that Matisse did, or maybe Hirschfeld. With only a piece of bent wire they define both shape and volume. Besides which you have to smile at them, especially the cow and the “standing woman”. Some of the small sculptures were made as maquettes of larger pieces but some must have been made just because he wanted to. In fact, my impression is that he did a lot of his work just because he wanted to.
The show also has quite a few photographs of Calder in his studio and a delightful video of Calder and his toy circus. For a man with such a forbidding appearance, he seems to have been extraordinarily light-hearted and able to keep his sense of play alive -- to become older without ever growing up. Joan Miro must have been like that, too.
Many of the works in this show are from the collection of John and Mary Shirley. They certainly have good taste.

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