REVIEW: Alexander Calder @Tate Modern

Tate Modern is presenting one of the largest retrospectives of the work of sculptor Alexander Calder. The exhibition is a wonderful experience to walk around with plenty to fascinate. 


Many of the works that have been selected for this exhibition focus on the period of the 1930’s and 40’s and how Calder explored the many different approaches to making ‘mobiles’ – a term invented by Marcel Duchamp to describe Calder’s sculptures with movement.

There is plenty of variety of work on display that showcase how Calder was able to develop sculpture from a frozen form (as evidenced by work on display in the first couple of rooms of the exhibition) to creating a piece of work that was constantly changing.

What is fascinating about this exhibition is the way in which visitors can clearly see the way in which Calder developed his work. It shows exactly how his approach to sculpture was so unique that no one has really even attempted to do it the same way again.

In a sense, there is quite a bit of science involved in the way he developed his mobiles, for example in his Small Sphere/Heavy Sphere piece, you can see how unpredictable movement can be with each piece not making the same noise or hitting the same spot each time – as the video alongside it makes clear.

Visitors can see how he was influenced by the circus and how the way in which the balance in the acrobats and performers exhibited, showing pieces such as The Brass Family , with its exaggerated poses and expressions that are almost comical. In these early rooms, the exhibition makes you look absolutely everywhere – from high above to the centre of the room, ensuring that the space is filled and keeps the visitor’s attention.

The display progresses very quickly to the work that is perhaps more familiar to those visiting: his mobiles. Inspired when visiting Piet Mondrian’s studio, he told the artist he wanted to make geometrical shapes move – which Mondrian was dismissive of.

But Calder made it work, and his delicate pieces of work show how fascinating sculpture can be with a bit of movement. All of the works are big, bold, confident and experimental in style that are fascinating to look at and discover.

However, there is still something lacking in this display – perhaps it feels too clinical and it lacks Calder’s voice running through it to develop our understanding of his work properly. By the end of the exhibition, the visitor is left wanting more and not necessarily fulfilled by what have seen – due to the occasional repetition of his pieces.

Yet overall, it is a fascinating exhibition that celebrates how Calder was able to change the perception of sculpture of being stuck in one position into something that could change every time you look at it.

Alexander Calder is on display at the Tate Modern until the 3rd April 2016. 

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