Hanging around Calder

May 24, 2012

Calder orange, reminds me of Flamingo in Chicago, a frequent stop on my childhood visits to the city.

Today, after posting my first Voices of Medicine podcast, I broke away from my work for an afternoon visit to Duke’s Nasher Museum of Art to stroll through the current exhibit, Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy.

I’d wanted to get back to see this exhibit after an initial walk through a few weeks ago, when I was invited along with other local arts-minded bloggers to see the Calder in the after-hours quiet. That visit reminded me of all the times I had strolled from my desk at Northern Ohio Live to visit the nearby Cleveland Museum of Art, where I would visit a favorite Turner, van Gogh, Brancusi and a painting showing a golden wheat field, telephone poles without any intervening power lines and an approaching summer thunderstorm.

Rain or no rain, the Nasher isn’t quite lunchtime walking distance from my current office, but there’s no reason for me not to get over here more often.

I also wanted to revisit the Calder because of the memories it dangled in my mind.

When I was in high school in DeKalb, Illinois, my father took me and my brothers into Chicago for ball games and museum trips and family meetups. We’d often walk up to the burnt-orange, bent-over Calder Flamingo sculpture in Federal Plaza. Other days, we’d end up at my grandparents home in Park Forest, where I’d meet Frank the Beachcomber in his upstairs Studio One workspace. He’d let me rummage through the jar of shark teeth he’d collected on trips to Florida, and he’d teach me to roll clay figurines.

My grandfather was a woodsman, too (in the 1930s and ‘40s, he wrote about hunting and fishing for magazines such as Field & Stream), and his love of wildlife came through in his crafts. I loved his mobiles, simple and unique, clay Canada geese hanging from a piece of driftwood. One day up in Studio One, before I was a teenager, he showed me how to take a piece of modeling clay, to roll it and shape it into a bird’s form. His fingers touched the birds lovingly. His eyes sparkled with memories of formations of geese banking overhead. (In the woods, 3/6/2002)

Did grandpa talk about Calder’s influence on him? I forget. But Calder invented the mobile, and as the Nasher exhibit shows, and Frank’s driftwood-and-geese mobiles attest, artists and craftsmen and children alike have been inspired to balance objects from above. (As a boy, I’d hung a toy Vought F4U Corsair from the ceiling above my bed.)

I’m glad I came back today, because the air currents in the Nasher are more active, caressing the Calder mobiles. That gentle movement, and the creative platforms beneath each piece (designed by the curators here), and the shadows doppling the grey walls, have made for an enjoyable mid-day break.

Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy will be at the Nasher through June 17, 2012. See photos of the pieces in the show at nasher.duke.edu/calder/images.php, and hang something fun at your home soon.

As much as I like the delicate Calder pieces, I most enjoyed this mirthful-but-blue scene by Nathan Carter called “Traveling language machine with #3 frequency disruptor and disinformation numbers station.”

Traveling language machine with #3 frequency disruptor and disinformation numbers station (Nathan Carter)

Anton Zuiker

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