You have probably seen the sculptures of Alexander Calder around LA -- monumental metal constructions in bright colors -- but you might not know that Calder had his first studio in Pasadena at age nine. His father was recovering from tuberculosis and in the windowed cellar of their Pasadena house, the young Calder made his first sculpture: a duck made of bent brass. Calder also was taken to the Rose Bowl parade on January 1, 1907 and saw the four-horse chariot race. Two decades later, he recreated it, along with other miniature circus characters made of bent wire, for Calder's Circus, now a favorite of visitors to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
However, there have not been many Calder exhibitions in LA. The last museum show was 1941 and the last gallery show was at Gagosian in 2005. That changes this month with a satisfying survey of pieces from 1938 to the years before Calder's death in 1976 at L&M Gallery in Venice through June 16. (A big show opens at LACMA next year.) The show includes mobiles, the word coined by Marcel Duchamp to describe the hanging pieces made of multi-colored metal, as well as stabiles, the droll term for his sculpture used by Jean Arp. In addition, there is an entire wall of framed gouaches, in mostly primary colors. Coming directly from the estate, they have never been seen before.
Alexander Calder, Untitled, 1972
The show is so significant that Calder's own grandson, Alexander S.C. Rower, Chairman and President of the Calder Foundation, came out from New York to oversee the installation. He visited KCRW to discuss the difficulties and joys of being part of an artistic dynasty.
Alexander Calder, Two Fish Tails, 1975
Alexander Calder, known as Sandy, was the son of a well-respected figurative sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder and portrait painter Nanette Lederer Calder. And his father was the 19th century sculptor Alexander Milne Calder, known for his sculpture of William Penn in Philadelphia. Furthermore, Sandy Calder was married to Louisa, the grandniece of the author Henry James. Despite this pedigree, Rower, also called Sandy, decided against pursuing art on his own. Despite taking art classes in college, he uses his creativity in understanding and managing the work of his grandfather, who produced some 22,000 pieces over the course of his long life.
During our interview, Rower explains why he has never seen a properly installed Calder show, the ways in which Calder is misunderstood as an artist and what it was like to have a famous artist as your grandfather.
Listen to Hunter's COMPLETE conversation with Alexander Rower.
Banner image: Alexander Calder, installation. All photos by JWPictures/Joshua White and courtesy of L&M Arts