News / USA

Exhibit Showcases Different Side of US Artist

Alexander Calder is best known for his abstract sculptures and mobiles but now his portraits are drawing notice

Artist Alexander Calder combined a love of mobiles and portraits in his work, now on display at the National Portrait Gallery.
Artist Alexander Calder combined a love of mobiles and portraits in his work, now on display at the National Portrait Gallery.

Multimedia

American artist Alexander Calder is best known for his enormous mobiles. His largest, from 1976, hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. However, another Washington museum, the National Portrait Gallery, is showing a different side of Calder.

Barbara Zabel curated the exhibition, "Calder’s Portraits: A New Language."

"He did so many mobiles, particularly late in life, that certainly the great proportion of his work are mobiles, stabiles," says Barbara Zabel, who curated the exhibition, "Calder’s Portraits:  A New Language." "But at the same time he was working on those, he would be doing little portraits, drawings."

A new exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington features more than 40 portraits and shows a different side of artist Alexander Calder.
A new exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington features more than 40 portraits and shows a different side of artist Alexander Calder.

In fact, Calder was doing portraits long before he created a mobile.

"The earliest one in the show is 1907 when he was 9 years old," Zabel says. "It is after his parents provided him with his own studio or workshop."

According to Zabel, other self-portraits followed. "He really wanted to become a painter, like his mother, initially. But I think his love of materials led him to sculpture."

Calder’s three-dimensional portraits were unlike anything people had seen before. One critic described them as drawing in space.

Zabel says they grew out of the miniature circus he created in the 1920s and used in performances.  

"The circus involved creating little figures out of wire and so out of this generated an interest in portraiture."

Sometimes, but not always, Calder would do a sketch first.  

"Typically he would throw a whole roll of wire over his shoulder, and work with the end of it," says Zabel. "Then if he needed to stop something and go in another direction, he might snip it and start with a new piece."

Shadows cast by the sculptures were important to artist Alexander Calder. He preferred to light them himself.
Shadows cast by the sculptures were important to artist Alexander Calder. He preferred to light them himself.

In the exhibit, Calder’s portraits of celebrities are often placed alongside photographs from the Portrait Gallery’s collection, like those of baseball star Babe Ruth and entertainer Jimmy Durante.  

Shadows cast by the sculptures were as important to the artist as the works themselves.

"He wanted to light them all himself. He referred to himself as an illumination engineer," says Zabel. "The portraits hanging from the ceiling also are in slow motion. You see the shadows move."

They were precursors to his famous mobiles. Later, Calder combined the two. A portrait of cartoonist Saul Steinberg seems to be followed by dark clouds.

Alexander Calder's mobile of a wire figure of Saul Steinberg with clouds following behind.
Alexander Calder's mobile of a wire figure of Saul Steinberg with clouds following behind.

"I think he felt he (Steinberg) was followed by doom and gloom everywhere he went and Calder tries to bring this out in a very humorous way," says Zabel.

The artist's last wire portrait was of himself, originally thought to be from the 1920s. His portraits are not as numerous as his abstract work, but Zabel says they reveal a side of the artist not frequently seen.  

"What fueled his work in portraiture is a genuine attraction to other people."

In Calder’s portraits, we see a man who loved humanity as much as art.


You May Like

Hostage Crisis Could Divide Japan Over Plans to Boost Military

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday the government is working closely with the Jordanian government to secure the release of remaining Japanese hostage Kenji Goto More

Video Brussels Shaken as New Greek Leader Challenges Europe’s Austerity Drive

Country's youngest ever PM Alexis Tsipras, 40, sworn in Monday and says he will restore dignity to Greece by ending spending cuts More

Multimedia National Geographic Photo Camps Empower Youth

Annual mentoring program's mission is to give young people a voice to tell their own stories through photography More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid