Calder in a Contemporary Context

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“Bird” by Alexander Calder, illustrates the artists’ playfulness and use of found materials.


Modernist artist Alexander Calder is widely regarded as the father of the mobile, even if Marcel Duchamp actually invented that word for Calder’s kinetic creations.

The current exhibition at the Orange County Museum of Art – titled “Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy” – features Calder’s mobiles and standing sculptures in conjunction with works by seven contemporary artists who have taken inspiration from his innovative spirit and playfulness and, in these “green” times, cues from someone way ahead of his time when it came to working with recycled materials.

The show has been curated by Lynne Warren of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and adapted to OCMA’s premises by director Dennis Szakacs who reveals hidden talent as an exhibition designer.

“We have placed Calder into the moment rather than putting him into a historical context, since many young artists are rediscovering his sense of joy and playfulness,” Szakacs said. “When we put the exhibition together, we wanted to create a conversation between Calder and contemporary artists, and also a few visual puns to engage viewers.”

For example, Kristi Lippire’s sculptures “3rd and Broadway” and “Fumigated Sculpture” appear in their earthbound heaviness light-years removed from Calder’s seemingly weightless “Snow Flurries,” and yet, Lippire’s sense of color and the playful way she stacks replicas of houses about to be fumigated reflect the master’s spirit.

“I wanted to show that art can be fun and that making things is really at the heart of it,” she said.

Her intricate “Hanging Gardens,” will evoke feelings of elation much like Calder’s “V-Shaped Vine” and other pieces in a similar vein.

Curry’s “Deft Composition” engages the viewer in the spirit of the master.

Then again, Aaron Curry’s “Ohneddaruth,” replicates the look and spirit of modernist art enough to make one think it was made in 1950 rather than last year. Curry picks up on both the form of modernism and some of its inherent playfulness in “Deft Composition,” a red and orange sculpture whose painted-on eyes seem to ensure viewer interaction. In defiance of 1960s and ‘70s art school dogma, much of the art does not “say” anything, but it’s sure fun to look at, and this one even looks back.

At last Friday’s opening, one could observe people going through the galleries again and again finding new sightlines, and there was not a furrowed brow in sight. The idea that art can be exalted and also just plain fun apparently caught on. Take for example “Performing Seal” or “Chat-Mobile (Cat-Mobile),” a cross between stabile sculpture and mobile: There is nothing deep to read into them; one simply enjoys them.

“When we unpacked the works and put them back together, we realized how well engineered the Calder’s work is,” recalled Szakacs. Some pieces, like Martin Boyce’s “Fear Meets the Soul,” aren’t quite so lighthearted, but then one might wonder what Calder would produce were he to live in current times.

Jason Middlebrook’s work leaves one baffled at first, wondering what the painted boards have to do with Calder. On closer examination, several covered with delicate lines play to and off Calder’s illusions of weightlessness. Middlebrook stretches illusion on his own with “Wood From All Over the World,” a mobile that is made from wire and somewhat unarticulated wood and that seems out of place until one notices that its cast shadows uncannily resemble birds in flight. Just in case anyone does not get the bird thing, Szakacs placed Middlebrook’s stationary “The Green and White Warbler” nearby.

To spread the joy of making things, OCMA has set aside a room for interactive participation. Visitors get to see an array of Lippire’s tools and a chance to make their own sculpture from recycled objects like pie tins and old signage, rearrange yards of strings around posts and nails or try their hand at paper sculpture.

Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art features Martin Boyce, Nathan Carter, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Aaron Curry, Jason Meadows, Jason Middlebrook and Kristi Lippire. The show runs through Sept. 4. 949-759-1122.


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