Exhibitions Mobile Master

By Lambirth, Andrew | The Spectator, May 11, 2013 | Go to article overview

Exhibitions Mobile Master


Lambirth, Andrew, The Spectator


Calder after the War Pace London, 6 Burlington Gardens, W1, until 7 June The Physicality of Seeing: Sculpture by Eilis O'Connell Canary Wharf, E14, until 24 May Mary Newcomb Crane Kalman Gallery, 178 Brompton Road, SW3, until 1 June Alexander Calder (1898-1976) needs no introduction. The master of the mobile - that poignant hanging arrangement of moving elements - he also invented the stabile (stationary) and the standing mobile. There was no one who could cut and shape sheet aluminium and suspend it from wire with quite the same wit, economy and shape invention. His imagery is primarily abstract and organises flat geometrical forms in contrasting planes through space: discs and triangles balance more biomorphic shapes and are linked by bent sprung wire into a multidirectional kinetic experience of colour and light. Calder mostly used black, white and red, supplemented with blue and yellow, his forms poised and counterweighted with supreme grace and the kind of intricacy that demands utter clarity. A good show of his work is a visual and intellectual delight - and this exhibition could scarcely be bettered.

It focuses on the paintings and sculptures that Calder made in one of the most fertile periods of a productive career, 1945 to 1949.

The downstairs gallery in Burlington Gardens, at the back of the Royal Academy (where the last substantial Calder exhibition was mounted in 1992), is filled with the most dazzling array of three-dimensional form, light as thistledown, beautifully tempered in its tensile rigidity. There's a lot of work here, but in this bright white space it doesn't look crowded: it has been so expertly installed that the disposition of the sculptures looks as natural as breathing. The rigours of engineering (that sheer precision) meet humour:

the masks and petals, the quivery 'Aspen' (1948), the arcing 'Sword Plant' (1947) and the egregious and wonderfully whiskery 'Rat' (1948). The smallish 'Horse and Rider' and the cigar-box miniatures of 'Louisa's 43rd Birthday Present' contrast with the aerial grace of 'Snow Flurry', one of my favourite pieces here.

Upstairs, in Pace's newly renovated firstfloor gallery, a display of Calder's bright and playful paintings is altogether less impressive but certainly worth viewing - particularly a group of small untitled gouaches from 1949. But it is the sculpture that takes the ludic to new heights of exquisite seriousness: breathtaking.

Eilis O'Connell (born 1953) is a very different kind of sculptor, who uses a wide range of materials and finds inspiration equally among the man-made and the organic. In the past she has fashioned shell-like forms out of woven stainless-steel cable or a nest from goose feathers; her latest work, on show at Canary Wharf, ranges from bronze to resin in a rich and satisfying vein of invention.

Outside, in the small but popular Canary Wharf Park, where office workers congregate to smoke, lunch and chat, and young mothers bring their children to play in the spring sunshine, there are five substantial O'Connell pieces dotted around the grassy hummocks. 'Anodos' (2010) is like a stylised flame or tear drop, its deeply waisted vertical form in metallic bluey-green polyester resin has a sparkling, candescent quality, the colour shifting as you walk around it, your shadow distorting the surface reflections in a hall-of-mirrors way. It looks like a rather solid ignis fatuus, the will-o'-the-wisp or marsh gas exhalations that burn eerily of their own accord on boggy ground.

'Circuit' (2011), by contrast, is a rolling swirl of pipe in textured grey, an elegant bit of three-dimensional drawing. …

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