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Beginning as a child with embellishments to the costumes of his sister’s dolls, the American sculptor Alexander Calder (1898-1976) created more than 1800 pieces of jewelry. Best known for his invention of the mobile, Calder also produced these precious ornaments throughout his lifetime—for his wife, family, artists, friends—and as a more intimate dimension of his monumental art. The personal nature of his jewelry, and the inspiration it drew from sources ranging from the primitive to the modern, provide insight into Calder’s life and art. From July 12 until November 2, 2008, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will present Calder Jewelry, the first museum exhibition to examine the jewelry on its own and in depth, as sculpture on a smaller scale. The exhibition, in the Perelman Building, consists of some 100 necklaces, bracelets, pins, earrings, and tiaras.
“Here in Philadelphia we are fortunate to have Alexander Calder’s work in the Museum’s collection as well as on outdoor view along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where a rotating installation of his stabiles, made possible by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Calder Foundation, has just welcomed two striking new and colorful additions,” Elisabeth Agro, the Nancy M. McNeil Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Crafts and Decorative Arts, said. “Alexander Calder was among the great sculptors of the modern age, and Calder Jewelry offers a rare and delightful occasion to experience-on our city streets and here in the galleries-the artist’s infinitely creative imagination at work on both a monumental and diminutive human scale, notably in these astonishing ornaments for the body.”
The metalwork from numerous ancient cultures significantly influenced Alexander Calder. He was attracted to the directness of ancient processes and loved the simplicity of their forms.
“When a mobile by Alexander Calder is seen packed in a crate, it is a flat, lifeless object,” notes exhibition curator Mark Rosenthal in the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition. “Picked up by its highest element, all of the components take their assigned positions, and the mobile will become animated, three-dimensional, and imbued with motion. A necklace by Calder lives in the same way—inside and outside a crate. The only real difference between the two is that the structure of the mobile, with its rigid metal spokes, creates the breadth of the work of art, whereas the necklace usually depends on the body of the wearer to expand from a static state to fullness. Both works are of a piece and cut from the same cloth of activity.”
“Making jewelry was very personal for him, and each piece exists as a unique work,” adds Calder Foundation Chairman and Director Alexander S. C. Rower, the artist’s grandson. “Some of his gifts for his crowd (of friends) are included here: a brass wire ring enclosing a tri-colored fragment of porcelain for Joan Miró, a gold “P” initial brooch for his wife, Pilar, and a silver brooch of her name for their daughter, Dolores; for Jeanne and Luis Bunuel, a gigantic flower brooch (with shards of colored glass and mirror for petals).” For Calder’s jewelry, the wearer becomes significant both as context and structural support, and the exhibition will be punctuated by enlarged images of people wearing the jewelry, including Calder’s wife, Louisa James. Other well-known women adorned by Calder, including Georgia O’Keeffe and Peggy Guggenheim, also suggest the jewelry’s popularity over the years.
This exhibition is co-organized by the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida, and the Calder Foundation, New York. Support for the exhibition has been generously provided by Melvin and Claire Levine, Doris and Donald Fisher, the Lipman Family Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Harold Smith, The Contemporary and Modern Art Council of the Norton Museum of Art, The Milton and Sheila Fine Endowment for Contemporary Art, the Dr. Henry and Lois Foster Endowment, and the Michael M. Rea Endowment.
Calder Jewelry is a collaboration between Alexander S.C. Rower, Chairman and Director of the Calder Foundation, and Mark Rosenthal, Adjunct Curator of Contemporary Art to the Norton Museum of Art. In Philadelphia, the exhibition is coordinated by Elisabeth Agro, The Nancy M. McNeil Associate Curator of American Modern and Contemporary Crafts and Decorative Arts.
Following its showing in Philadelphia, Calder Jewelry will travel to The Metropolitan Museum of Art (December 8, 2008 – March 1, 2009) and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (March 31 – June 22, 2009).
Calder Jewelry is accompanied by a companion book published by the Calder Foundation. Published by Yale University Press, it contains newly commissioned, full-color photographs by Maria Robledo, a frequent contributor to The New York Times and Town & Country. The book is edited by Alexander S. C. Rower and Holton Rower, with essays by Mark Rosenthal and Jane Adlin that discuss the relationship of these objects to the artist’s other endeavors and the objects’ relation to the history of jewelry. The catalogue is available in the Museum Store ($65 hardcover; $50 softcover) or by calling 800-329-4856 or online at: www.philamuseum.org.
About Alexander Calder
Alexander Calder (1898-1976) was born in Lawnton, Pennsylvania. He graduated in 1919 from the Stevens Institute of Technology with a degree in mechanical engineering. In 1923, after a series of assorted jobs, he entered the Art Students League in New York and embarked on a career that would revolutionize the course of modern sculpture and earn him international renown. From 1926 to 1931, his miniature wire circus sculpture and performance piece, Cirque Calder, brought Calder to the attention of the art world’s leading figures, including Miró, Leger, Mondrian, and Picasso. He worked in a wide range of media and is best known for inventing freely moving constructions suspended in air (for which Marcel Duchamp coined the term “mobiles”) and for his large freestanding sculptures (dubbed “stabiles” by Jean Arp). In the final decades before his death in 1976, he devoted himself increasingly to monumental outdoor sculpture. His work figures prominently in the modern collections of major museums throughout the world. A retrospective exhibition celebrating the centennial of his birth at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., in 1998, also shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, attracted 603,700 visitors during its run in the two cities.
Alexander Calder was the third generation of the accomplished artistic family from Philadelphia. Alexander Milne Calder (1846-1923), who immigrated to Philadelphia from Scotland, created some 200 sculptural decorations adorning City Hall in addition to the much-loved bronze statue of William Penn. Alexander Stirling Calder (1870-1945), who was born in Philadelphia, was especially noted for his Swann Memorial Fountain but also created many other sculptures throughout the city and on the Parkway. At the western end of the Parkway, Alexander Calder’s ethereal mobile Ghost (1964) is suspended in the Great Stair Hall of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Members of Calder’s family formed the Calder Foundation in 1987 to promote, research, and disseminate information about Alexander Calder’s work.
About Calders on the Parkway
In 2001, The Pew Charitable Trusts announced a grant to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to present a series of outdoor installations of work by Alexander Calder along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The grant enabled the Museum, in collaboration with the Calder Foundation, to install 10 to 15 sculptures on a rotating basis. Sculptures of varying scale, some of them monumental, were placed in the Rodin Museum garden and on two-acre parkland site at Benjamin Franklin Parkway and 22nd Street. The installation is an ongoing changing exhibition. The most recent additions are two colorful sculptures, the fiery red Jerusalem Stabile (1976), a mid-size version of the artist’s last public monumental sculpture commission, for the State of Israel; and Le chien en trios couleurs (Three-colored Dog), 1973, richly punctuated in red, blue, and black. These works join a group of black stabiles, including Discontinuous (1962); The Rocket (1964); Untitled (Triangles), 1972; Angulaire (1975); and, courtesy of the City of Philadelphia, Three Disks, One Lacking (1968).