Calder: Great Yellow Sun
American-born artist Alexander Calder (1898-1976), one of the most fascinating figures of modern art in the twentieth century, developed his artistic language in New York and Paris in the interwar period. His work emerged alongside the avant-garde notions of Surrealism, Dada, and abstraction – and yet he developed a unique style of his own.
Calder is renowned mostly for his invention of the kinetic objects known as mobiles, that became a significant turning point for modern sculpture by opening up exciting new options of reactivity and motion (in contrast to the solidity and mass of traditional sculpture). In addition to his mobiles, he also produced stable metal sculptures (dubbed stabiles), wire sculptures, drawings, prints, jewelry, painting and more. These are all informed by a singular hand that defies any attempt at categorization. His abstract language is based on the intuitive use of pure color, gesture, and line, which extends between subtle biomorphic shapes and geometric forms.
The exhibition offers a glimpse into Calder's world through works that he created in diverse media, spanning over five decades of his career – from early pencil drawings, produced in 1925, to one of his very last mobiles, created in 1976, the year of his demise. The title of the exhibition, Great Yellow Sun (taken from one of his gouaches), reflects three significant elements of his abstractions: scale, color and form. The reference to the sun also suggests another, thought-provoking reading of the artist's output: Calder's work may be seen as an exploration of energetic forces that combine aesthetics and the fourth dimension with scientific knowledge of physics, mathematics, and mechanics. Asked how art is realized, Calder replied, "Out of volumes, motion, spaces bounded by the great space, the universe".
The exhibition focuses on a lesser-known part of Calder's output: his gouache paintings. Gouaches – a medium he began exploring in the 1940s – became one of his most prolific bodies of work. They were rarely a complement to his sculptural works, and were not preparatory drawings or exercises in color or iconography. Rather, they were an independent practice within Calder's oeuvre which, throughout his career, was marked by constant transitions from two-dimensional forms to three-dimensional ones – and back again. The extensive range of gouaches featured in the exhibition give expression to two contrasting aspects of his work: the creation of multiplicity and variability, while maintain stylistic coherence and consistency.
The qualities of gouache paint as a fast drying medium with strong opacity allowed Calder great freedom to experiment, with immediacy and impulsiveness. The paintings depict basic forms (circles, triangles, spirals), alongside primal symbols (sun, moon, stars), elements from ancient civilizations (masks, pyramids, boomerangs), and motifs from nature (flowers, butterflies, marine creatures). Using minimalist means – this vocabulary of simple images, and a palette of bold colors and black and white – Calder returned to the simplicity of fundamentals, both actual and metaphysical. This may be seen as an expression of his desire to regain a place of primal innocence and existence not yet shaped by knowledge, culture, and self-awareness.
The exhibition was made possible by the generosity of the Micky Tiroche family collection, and the support of Rivka Saker and Uzi Zucker.
It is part of the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the Museum’s Main Building, envisioned by its then director Dr. Haim Gamzu, and is supported by the Gamzu Fund for the Advancement of the Arts.
Additional support was provided by the French Embassy in Israel – the French Institute in Israel.