Ann Arbor Observer cover
Tattoos for Avalon Housing
Ann Arbor Weather:
Saturday October 19, 2019
Follow us: facebook twitter RSS feed
Fêtes accomplies

Fêtes accomplies

Another side of Calder

by Laura Bien

From the March, 2006 issue

Counteracting the popular image of Alexander Calder as a whimsical wizard of elegant megamobiles, a nineteen-minute film of a Cirque Calder performance inadvertently portrays the artist as a doddery paterfamilias of a charming yet rinky-dink miniature wire circus.

Planned as part of the Institute for the Humanities exhibit of a collaboration between Calder and French poet Jacques Prévert, the film portrays a 1966 performance, for a Parisian audience, of the Cirque Calder, an ensemble of wire, metal, and cloth figures and circus props created nearly four decades earlier. Manipulated by Calder's hand or by simple, ingenious gears, cranks, catapults, and strings, two wire and metal horse-carriages race, a lion tamer puts his head in a lion's mouth, and trapeze artists swing, leap, and catch their partners' wrists.

The beaming, bearlike Calder seems so charmed by his circus figures that he doesn't realize the molasses-slow performance of clever yet tiny feats grows tedious. Nor does he seem to hear a subtle note of ridicule that underlies some of the audience's laughter.

This fascinating film recalls Thomas Wolfe's blistering, barely fictionalized portrayal, in You Can't Go Home Again, of a 1929 Cirque Calder performance in a New York socialite's apartment, when the novelty of the Cirque was a quaint, fashionable diversion for the well heeled. "It became painful," reads one passage. "People craned their necks and looked embarrassed. But Mr. Logan [Calder] was not embarrassed. He giggled happily with each new failure and tried again. It went on and on."

In addition to the film, exhibition curator Elisabeth Paymal plans to show Calder's sixteen preliminary circus drawings, a spiral metal pin and earrings, and books of Aesop's fables and nursery rhymes bearing the artist's enchanting, airy illustrations. Two illustrations for a fable entitled "The Spider" show a swirly spiral spider resembling the pin and an amusing drawing of a man's profile with a spider on a long thread of spider-silk just barely above his head. A chunky red

...continued below...


and yellow snake planned for the show is fashioned from kinked sheet metal. Hung with a small hidden weight, the snake's long, cursive tongue is a minimobile.

The exhibit's ostensible raison d'être consists of five planned cases showing different pages of Fêtes, Prévert's homage to Calder, which praises him and his work in lyrical, worshipful prose full of elegant metaphors. Calder, in turn, agreed to illustrate the book, and his blunt, bright abstractions (see above) offer pleasing shapes that, despite their simplicity, nevertheless radiate humor and joy.

The exhibit is on display on Thursdays and Fridays from noon to 8 p.m. (or by appointment) March 6 through April 7, in the Institute's Osterman Room in the basement of Rackham.

[Review published March 2006]     (end of article)

 

 
Bookmark and Share
Print Comment E-mail

You might also like:

Dress Barn's Bad Bet
And other August 2019 marketplace closings
Sabine Bickford
The Online Courthouse
How "socially minded software" is making courts more efficient-and helping people in recovery.
Jan Schlain
Subscribe to the Ann Arbor Observer
Health Care - Chemical Dependency
For Encore, Less Is More
A record shop takes a smaller spot
Sabine Bickford
Photo: John, Kelsey, Evelyn, and Charlie at the U-M Museum of Natural History
Ann Patchett
The cost of forgiveness
Keith Taylor
Vinology
Options and opportunities
Lee Lawrence
Reeds & Steel
Easygoing and unbothered
Hannah Levinsohn
Allan Harris
The jazz singer
Piotr Michalowski
One of the finest university art museums in the country, UMMA holds collections representing 150 yea
Vicki's Wash and Wear Haircuts