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.