Review: Alexander Calder — The Nasher Sculpture Center

[Originally published in VAS and The Huffington Post]

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Part aerial act, part cinched weight tethered to the world, “Art: Form, Balance, Joy” is spectacular. It serves as reminder that, in large part, our work as humans is to hone the process of what the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, called  “dwelling poetically.” This longing erupts at altar rails, zendos and tribal rituals and, in rare moments, in the colossal architectural spaces we purposely concoct to invoke Muses — thus, the etymological root of the term, “museum.” Whether such swellings of the heart are reliably constellated in those structures is another matter. But, for now, we have magic in our midst.

Alexander Calder’s work is a shining display of our desire to wreck our hearts upon everything we can — and can’t — name. It complies with our inexplicable longing to beat ourselves senseless with beauty. Calder, more spectacularly than most, is willing to maul us with loveliness.

“The Spider” (1940) functions almost as a branding motif for the show. It’s made of painted sheet metal and curving steel rods that remind us there’s magic in gravity. Larger, almost ovoid, shapes serve as a counterpoise to smaller, rounded shards. The entire piece is grounded and supported by curved rods. The work, as the name suggests, is reminiscent of the multiple legs of an arachnid. This wild and unwieldy piece shows us the unlikely lightness of a material that’s used to fabricate armor, horse tack and airplane wings. Apparently, in deft hands, it also morphs into sheer lyricism.

“Three Bollards (Trois Bollards)” (1970) shows us how things intersect. “Bollards” is a term for the posts sailors use to moor their crafts. And we, too, are anchored by these pieces that seem vaguely mammalian. One discerns the shape of a head and sprawling legs. This kind of work, referred to as “biomorphic shapes,” are “stabiles” — as opposed to “mobiles” — and will almost certainly remind you of the contours in Joan Miró paintings.  They’re large and nuzzling pieces. They seem to nest. In fact, Calder gives us what could be dubbed “Felt Physics” — put another way, his objects yoke desire and cerebration in much the same way metaphysical poetry does.

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“Orange Paddle under the Table” (circa 1949) displays a fine balance that forces us to ponder symmetry. It’s an outward manifestation of the simple laws that simultaneously keep planes aloft and confer heft upon levers. Plus, we’re reminded that whispers, not shouts, expose us most deeply to the gorgeousness of the world.

Do you see this lovely world?” seems to be the constant incantation of this show. And if Calder isn’t enough — and he is — you also have Giaciometti, Brancusi, Matisse and Picasso. This is stellar. And it really is, as the exhibition title implies, a triumvirate of form, balance and joy. And, of these, the greatest is joy.

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