Alexander Calder (self-portrait)

Self-Portrait (detail) by Alexander Calder / Oil on canvas, 1925 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the artist / ©2010 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists' Rights Society (ARS) New York

Calder's Portraits: A New Language

March 11, 2011 - August 14, 2011

Best known for his abstract mobiles and stabiles, Alexander Calder (1898-1976) was also a prolific portraitist.  Throughout his career Calder portrayed entertainment, sports, and art-world figures, including Josephine Baker, Jimmy Durante, Babe Ruth, and Charles Lindbergh, as well as colleagues Marion Greenwood, Fernand Léger, and Saul Steinberg, to name a few.

Typically, Calder worked in the unorthodox medium of wire, a flexible linear material, which he shaped into three-dimensional portraits of considerable character and nuance. Suspended from the wall or ceiling, the portraits were free to move; because of this mobility, they appeared—like their subjects—to have a life of their own.  This unprecedented exhibition featured Calder’s work alongside contemporary documents—photographs, drawings, and especially caricatures by such artist-illustrators as Paolo Garretto, Miguel Covarrubias, and Paul Colin—and posed questions regarding the line between fine-art portraiture and caricature. The exhibition shed light on an often overlooked aspect of Alexander Calder’s career, as well as on broader narratives of American culture of the twentieth century.