Calder on Paper: London show reveals the versatility of American sculptor’s Alexander Calder talent
The American artist Alexander Calder was best known as a sculptor, creating large-scale monumental sculptures that adorned such places as New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport, the Unesco building in Paris as well as outside the Aztec stadium used for the Mexico City Olympics in 1968.
He went on to gain even wider fame for the playful mobiles that he created – also known as “drawings in space” – featuring collections of brightly coloured geometric shapes hanging by wire, which were feted as kinetic sculptures and which latterly became a staple of children’s bedrooms.
But alongside these other endeavours, Calder, who started his artistic career as painter, also created a series of beautiful gouaches on paper, a selection of which are on show at Salon at the Saatchi Gallery in London.
The collection of artworks, which are curated by the Omer Tiroche Gallery as part of its third exhibition, is on show in Calder on Paper: 1960 – 1976, which runs until December 7 alongside further works of the artist at the Mayfair arm of Tiroche’s London operation.
There is a strong family connection between Tiroche and the work of Calder, who died in 1976 aged 78 just after the opening of a major retrospective of his life’s work at the Whitney Museum in New York; Omer Tiroche’s father, Micky, has been collecting the American’s gouaches for many years, picking them up originally for a song and now selling them at mark-ups of up to 2,000 per cent.
Omer takes up the story: “My father had a brilliantly forward-thinking eye. He recognised that Joan Miro and Calder had been close, in both friendship and practices, and it didn’t make sense that Miro’s prices were so much higher than Calder’s.
“My father began buying these works on paper during one of the art market’s most inflated periods,’ he told Spears magazine, “and then continued acquiring them throughout the crash of the early 1990s and beyond. With his support, and thanks to the creation of the Calder Foundation, which provided a reputable platform for authentication and organisation, prices began to rise steadily around the mid-2000s, and dramatically so from about 2012.”
His gouaches were first shown at the Kootz Gallery in New York in 1945 and had critics hailing Calder as “a possible rival to the likes of Klee and Miro”. The apparent simplicity of his work revealed a sense of playfulness and humour, as his highly visual vocabulary was far removed from some of the more challenging works being created in the post-war period by contemporaries such as the abstract expressionists.
Although Calder had been working in other media for many years, and gaining increasing fame for his mobiles and sculptures, the artist continued to paint throughout the later stages of his career, preferring to work with gouache over oil and watercolour due to its translucent characteristics.
Calder said of his own work: “What I produce is not precisely what I have in mind – but a sort of sketch, a man-made approximation. That others grasp what I have in mind seems unessential as long as they have something else in theirs.”
The works on show at the Saatchi are bold, abstract creations; the arrangements of shapes and primary colours present an unknown and unformed language to the viewer to format for themselves, be it just through the initial pleasure at the brightness and joy to be gained from their primary attractions, through to their immediacy and purity of colour, line and form. There are also cheerful representations of faces and bodies, similarly presented in right colours.
The senior director of the Saatchi Gallery, Philippa Adams, says: “We are delighted to be working with Omer Tiroche Gallery for Salon’s third presentation. Many know Alexander Calder is, of course, best known for his sculptural works and it is fascinating to witness how these two elements of his practice fed off one another.”
Alongside the show at the Saatchi, the partner show in Mayfair showcases his earlier works on paper dating from 1939 to 1959. The two shows running in tandem give the observer as keen sense of just two separate periods of Calder’s career and serve to impress the range of Calder’s work and also nods to his greater contribution to the development of modern art during the 20th century.