Thursday, October 9, 2014

Balancing Act: Alexander Calder and the Cosmos

by Drew Martin
Yesterday's selenelion, that's the total lunar eclipse opposite a sunrise, got me thinking about how the sun and moon have been represented in art throughout the ages. I first think of Vincent Van Gogh's The Starry Night and The Red Vineyard, or even his Vase with 12 Sunflowers, which is really a composition of flowers as suns. I also think about Henri Rousseau's jungle scene paintings with their perfect, distant full moons.

I think the artist who was most influenced by the relationship between the sun and moon was Alexander Calder. As the story goes, he awoke on the deck of a ship near the equator in open water with a clear view of panoramic horizon. On the eastern horizon was a rising sun, and on the western horizon was a setting full moon. Seeing those two, perfect circles, opposed to each other, with him in between them sparked an interest in their balance. A connection was made at that moment that merged his thorough artistic upbringing, and formal engineering education, which sparked a kind of revolution in sculpture. Until then, including the stonework of his father and grandfather, sculpture was massive and monumental. Calder forever changed that when he created his/the first mobile, which seemed childishly playful and whimsical.

One of my favorite stories of Calder was when he had a show, which included a kinetic, motor-driven system of sliding balls on twisted wire that referenced planetary movement. Albert Einstein showed up, was transfixed by the work, and stood staring at it through its full 45-ish minute cycle.