|“Hanging Spider” (circa 1940)2017 Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York|
Bringing Alexander Calder’s Sculptures to Life
This is a portion of the 2017 article.
By DANIEL MCDERMON
Video by DAMON WINTERJune 26, 2017
ALEXANDER CALDER is famous for having made sculptures that move, but conservators and collectors are cautious about showing them that way. “Calder: Hypermobility,” a new exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, is a rare chance to see several of his works as intended.
To bring them to life, several of the Whitney’s art handlers, who ordinarily work behind the scenes, have been cast into a new role as performers. At scheduled times during the run of the show, a handler will “activate” a sculpture in the gallery with the prod of a gloved finger or the poke of a wooden stick.
Alexander S. C. Rower, a grandson of Calder’s who is president of the Calder Foundation, has trained the crew members to activate the sculptures, a delicate procedure that is, the museum would like to emphasize, only for authorized museum professionals. I spoke to several of the “activators” about their work.
In motion, the sculptures show a different disposition.
“What I understood as the Calder mobile was sort of a passive thing,” said Rob Lomblad, one of the handlers.
And Calder’s signature elements — twisted wire and painted sheet metal — can move in unpredictable ways.
“You’re actually holding something that has this almost spiritual quality to it,” said Tom Kotik, who has been working as a handler at the Whitney for two decades. “Blizzard (Roxbury Flurry)” is one of his favorites. “It does have this playful side to it,” he said, “but then again, you think about it in terms of the cold and the snow, and there’s almost a — I wouldn’t say grittiness, because snow is not gritty — but there’s a yin and a yang.”