Fernand Leger called Alexander Calder (1898 - 1976) the greatest living sculptor, and Jean-Paul Sartre wrote of him, "One of Calder's objects is like the sea and casts a spell like it; always begun over again, always new." Yet despite all the accolades, awards, and fame, this hard-working artist was a modest fellow fascinated by ordinary things and excited to come up with fresh ways of perceiving them.
Calder was born into a family of artists; his father was a sculptor and his mother, a painter. As a young boy, he made his own toys and set up a studio. After graduating from Stevens Institute of Technology in 1919, he tried several careers and then decided to devote his creative energies to art. He worked for a while as a freelance illustrator in New York and then went to Paris where he wowed the city's avant-garde crowd with his Circus populated with toys and figurines moving in a drama of sorts orchestrated by Calder himself. He impressed many artists with his wire portraits which he created on the spot at parties and other gatherings.
The artist and sculptor was intrigued by the abstract works of Joan Miro and Piet Mondrian where form and color were pre-eminent. Calder created motored objects and then fashioned creations that moved by chance in the wind. The French artist Marcel Duchamp called them "mobiles" and they opened the door to a totally new form of sculpture that was not solid and unmoving. When we visited the "Calder's Universe" exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1976, his mobiles charmed our eyes. We felt like we had entered a wonder-world of playful art that was bright, colorful, and deliciously cheerful.
Roger Sherman serves as director of this one-hour segment of PBS's American Masters series. Winner of a Peabody Award in 1998, it is an evergreen documentary that is exquisite, enlightening, and entertaining. The film's narrator is Tovah Feldshuh, and there are interviews with Arthur Miller, Brendan Gill, Marla Prather, David Ross and Calder's daughters and grandson.
This astonishing documentary conveys this artist's ingenuity and the boundless inventiveness evident in his more than 16,000 pieces. As the filmmaker makes clear, Calder's universe is a distinctive one of play, joy, and fun. That was certainly our experience. When we left his exhibit, we had become believers that an orange orbed mobile dancing on air was as beautiful as a sunset.
Special features on the DVD include a photo/art gallery and an interview with Roger Sherman on Calder and more