Calder’s Portraits: A New Language

Alexander Calder with Edgar Varese (c. 1930) and Unknown man (1929), Sache, 1963 Ugo Mulas (1928-1973) Gelatin silver print, 1963 Alexander Calder with Edgar Varese (c. 1930) and Unknown man (1929), Sache, 1963 Ugo Mulas (1928-1973) Gelatin silver print, 1963 Courtesy Ugo Mulas Archives, © Ugo Mulas Heirs. All Rights Reserved, Calder artwork in photo © 2010 Calder Foundation New York / ARS, New York

Through August 14, 2011
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Museum
Donald W. Reynolds center for American Art,
Eight and F Streets, NW, Washington, D.C.
For information call 202.633.1000 or visit www.npg.ci.edu

Best known for his abstract mobiles and stabiles, Alexander Calder (1898–1976) was also a prolific portraitist who created hundreds of likenesses over the course of his lifetime. Calder’s Portraits: A New Language sheds light on an often-overlooked aspect of Alexander Calder’s career and on broader narratives of twentieth-century American culture.

In addition to paintings and drawings, Calder’s Portraits will feature a number of the artist’s famed wire sculptures. Working with the unorthodox medium of wire, Calder shaped three-dimensional portraits, achieving nuanced likenesses and vivid characters. His inventive technique was referred to as “drawing in space” and reconceived both portraiture and sculpture. “Calder’s mobiles and sculptures represent some of the highest achievements in twentieth-century American art,” said Martin Sullivan, director of the museum. “This exhibition explores his lesser-known yet imaginative, portraits offering insights into both Calder’s perspective and his sitter’s personalities.”

Calder’s heads cast evocative shadows, change when viewed from different angles, and move if suspended from the ceiling. In this way, Calder captured the distinctive personalities of his sitters with humor and sophistication. The exhibition juxtaposes Calder’s works with portraits of his subjects from the National Portrait Gallery’s
extensive collection of contemporary photographs, drawings and caricatures by such artist-illustrators as Paolo Garretto and Miguel Covarrubias.

A catalogue, written by guest curator Barbara Zabel, accompanies the exhibition.

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