Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hello Mobile

"Hello" - hanging mobile by Unigami

It only took a few minutes to make this. It's fun to watch the various letter combinations 
that appear as it moves around...I may experiment with this a bit more...

Alexander Calder papers at the Smithsonian

In 1963, Alexander Calder donated a collection of photographs, news-clippings, sketches, correspondence, and other personal documents including a passport and address book to the Smithsonian Institution. The stack of papers measured 2.5 feet tall and was microfilmed shortly after receipt.

This collection has been digitized, and is available for viewing online at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

Alexander Calder papers: 1926 - 1967

I spent well over an hour browsing this collection and I highly recommend that you check it out if you are a Calder fan. I especially enjoyed the family photographs and some of the news-clippings that were reviews of various exhibits from early in Calder's career. Many of these are in French...I wish I could read them!

Thursday, October 21, 2010



I’m frustrated…I think this would be a beautiful mobile, but I can’t figure out how to do the wiring without things becoming cumbersome.  Guess I’ll file this one away for now and hopefully come back to it later.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What's in a name?

"Spacely" - hanging mobile by Unigami
I'd like to introduce you to "Spacely", my latest mobile design.  My original plan was to name it "Proteus", a sea-god from Greek mythology (and a cool submarine in the movie Fantastic Voyage), but when I hung it up for the first time after everything was painted I thought it looked like something out of The Jetsons and "Spacely" immediately popped into my mind. I'll reserve "Proteus" for something later on.

It's fun to name a mobile. Most of the time, I let the mobile name itself. As in this case, it usually comes to me as I am making it. Each mobile seems to have its own personality and it's usually pretty easy to find a name that conjures up the feeling that I get from it.  Here are a few good examples:

Ten Crows

Sometimes the name of the mobile is a reference to something that inspired it, for example the design of my "Wilco" mobile appeared in my mind, fully formed, as I was listening to a Wilco album.  

Every now and then I will get stumped.  I remember one occasion when I finished a mobile and had no name for it, so I asked my daughter Bridget for help.  She came up with a great name..."Quibble"!

Alexander Calder titled most of his sculptures, and I've read that he followed the same method of letting the name reveal itself to him.  Most of his titles were descriptive, such as; "Big Red", "One White, Four Blacks", "Thirty-two Disks", "Wooden Bottle with Hairs", "Crinkly", and "The Y".  Some appear nonsensical with no apparent meaning (to me at least) such as; "Myxomatose", "Teodelapio", and "Obus". Of course, Calder was known for his playful sense of humor and one can find that in some of his titles as well...some of my favorites are; "The Lace on the Edge of Your Panties", "Funghi Neri", "Little Tinkle", and "Bayonets Menacing a Flower". 

I supposed my all-time favorite Calder title would have to be "Sword Plant" - a great name and a perfect description for one of his best stabiles.

Most artists give careful thought to the title they chose for a particular piece.  The next time you are admiring a work of art, take a few moments and think about the title. You may find that it sheds new light on the piece and makes you think about it in a completely new way.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Calder Karma

I went to Chicago this past weekend to see the special exhibit "Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy".  With over 60 sculptures by Calder on display, plus inspired works by seven contemporary artists, this was a "must see" for me and  I wasn't disappointed!

There were so many iconic pieces there; "Big Red", "Finny Fish", "Portrait of the Artist", "Flying Fish", "Little Face", "Performing Seal", among so many others - it was simply amazing to see them with my own eyes, inches away from me, and in motion.  It was if one of my Calder books had come to life.

I have to give credit to the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art for putting on such a wonderful show.  I especially appreciated the manner in which the mobiles were hung at eye level, which according to the audio tour, was how Calder intended them to be viewed.  For me, it was a religious experience to stand face to face with  these beautiful sculptures and watch the quiet dignity of their movement, influenced by the air currents created by the wanderings of the museum patrons. It also allowed me to closely inspect the methods that Calder used to construct his mobiles.

I noticed something very important about how Calder worked.

As I moved from piece to piece, I became aware of the differences between Calder's skill and the way I make mobiles.  For me, the artistic and creative process primarily lies in the initial concept for a mobile, which I usually develop in a sketch.  After that, I switch into "engineer mode" and do my best to create the sculpture as accurately as possible to reflect this idea using the cutting, joining, and painting methods that I have developed over the years.  I spend a lot of time making sure that things are "just so" - ensuring that the wires are smoothly bent, connections are uniform, elements are hanging perfectly vertical (or horizontal), and the paint is as nice as it can be. It's time consuming.  If necessary, I'll remove and replace a section of the mobile to correct a problem.

Calder, on the other hand, did not let his engineering talents become a hindrance to the creative process at any point. It is clearly obvious that for him, the process of constructing a complex hanging mobile was no different than making a quick pen and ink sketch.  There is a free flowing magical quality to the way that he bent the wire, and his willingness to be unencumbered by convention can be seen in a multiplicity of ways; such as by the way he used variations in joining methods from piece to piece (or even within a single piece), how he would sometimes rivet a chunk of metal to a petal to make it heavier when necessary, how he would extend the length of a wire arm by simply splicing another piece onto it with a clever interlocking bend, and how he wasn't afraid to leave a ragged edge here or there.

The spontaneity of the construction method jumps out at you when you see these sculptures up close, and it becomes apparent how it augments the overall impression of an organic spontaneous playfulness of the mobile's movement. I think Calder's genius was the way he was able to put so much action into his sculptures. I can't think of any other sculptor that has been able to do this so well.

Most people are familiar with the concept of "karma", but many incorrectly have the impression that there is "good karma" and "bad karma" - merit badges in some law of cosmic justice that is basically "what goes around, comes around".  In fact, karma simply means "action" and though it powers the cycle of cause and effect it has no good or bad qualities within itself.  You also may not know that there is a form of yoga known as "karma yoga".  Since yoga means "union", the literal translation of karma yoga is "the path of union through action". In other words, it is not "the ends justify the means", but rather "the means are the ends".  For an artist, this would be practiced by letting go of one's tendency to be attached to the idea of the finished result and instead be at one with each moment of the creative process.

I think Calder's art clearly shows his impressive and perhaps unequaled ability to achieve this kind of  unencumbered creativity - a karmic yoga, in his work - a feat difficult for any artist but especially so I think, for a sculptor. Look closely, and you'll see that every bend, crimp, loop, and petal of a Calder mobile is a unique work of art within itself.

Looking at the beautiful mobiles and stabiles at the MoCA, I couldn't help but think, if you could somehow plant a chunk of steel into the ground and make it grow, it would grow into a Calder.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Moving the Universe?

Calder's "The Universe" - photo by Jough Dempsey via Flickr
An article in the Chicago Tribune reports that Sears, Roebuck & Co., original owner of the Sears Tower in Chicago, wants to buy back the motorized Alexander Calder sculpture "The Universe", which was commissioned specifically for the tower lobby and has been on display since 1974.

Sears sold the tower in 1994 and it was renamed "Willis Tower" in 2009. The current owner, an investment firm named "223 South Wacker LLC" is disputing Sears' claim that the 1994 terms of sale, which included a "buy-back" agreement that allows Sears to purchase the sculpture at half of its appraised price, is still valid. An attorney for the investment firm
has filed a law-suit to block the purchase and reports that Sears intends to remove the sculpture from the tower . Sears has declined to comment on any plans to relocate the sculpture.

I have a feeling that if Sears is successful, they will indeed move "The Universe" out of the tower; inflicting yet another act of vandalism against what is perhaps Chicago's most iconic building. Iconic buildings should not be renamed, and works of art that are site-specific, such as "The Universe", should not be relocated. 

I also have a feeling that the people of Chicago, proud of their city's art and architectural heritage, and still angry over the renaming of the tower, are not going to stand by and let this happen without a fight!,0,184087.story