The concluding volume to the first biography of one of the most important, influential, and beloved twentieth-century sculptors, and one of the greatest artists in the cultural history of America–is a vividly written, illuminating account of his triumphant later years.
The second and final volume of this magnificent biography begins during World War II, when Calder–known to all as Sandy–and his wife, Louisa, opened their home to a stream of artists and writers in exile from Europe. In the postwar decades, they divided their time between the United States and France, as Calder made his first monumental public sculptures and received blockbuster commissions that included Expo ’67 in Montreal and the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Jed Perl makes clear how Calder’s radical sculptural imagination shaped the minimalist and kinetic art movements that emerged in the 1960s. And we see, as well, that through everything–their ever-expanding friendships with artists and writers of all stripes; working to end the war in Vietnam; hosting riotous dance parties at their Connecticut home; seeing the “mobile,” Calder’s essential artistic invention, find its way into Webster’s dictionary–Calder and Louisa remained the risk-taking, singularly bohemian couple they had been since first meeting at the end of the Roaring Twenties. The biography ends with Calder’s death in 1976 at the age of seventy-eight–only weeks after an encyclopedic retrospective of his work opened at the Whitney Museum in New York–but leaves us with a new, clearer understanding of his legacy, both as an artist and a man.
The first biography of America’s greatest twentieth-century sculptor, Alexander Calder: an authoritative and revelatory achievement, based on a wealth of letters and papers never before available, and written by one of our most renowned art critics.
Alexander Calder is one of the most beloved and widely admired artists of the twentieth century. Anybody who has ever set foot in a museum knows him as the inventor of the mobile, America’s unique contribution to modern art. But only now, forty years after the artist’s death, is the full story of his life being told in this biography, which is based on unprecedented access to Calder’s letters and papers as well as scores of interviews. Jed Perl shows us why Calder was–and remains–a barrier breaker, an avant-garde artist with mass appeal. This beautifully written, deeply researched book opens with Calder’s wonderfully peripatetic upbringing in Philadelphia, California, and New York. Born in 1898 into a family of artists–his father was a well-known sculptor, his mother a painter and a pioneering feminist–Calder went on as an adult to forge important friendships with a who’s who of twentieth-century artists, including Joan Miró, Marcel Duchamp, Georges Braque, and Piet Mondrian. We move through Calder’s early years studying engineering to his first artistic triumphs in Paris in the late 1920s, and to his emergence as a leader in the international abstract avant-garde. His marriage in 1931 to the free-spirited Louisa James–she was a great-niece of Henry James–is a richly romantic story, related here with a wealth of detail and nuance. Calder’s life takes on a transatlantic richness, from New York’s Greenwich Village in the Roaring Twenties, to the Left Bank of Paris during the Depression, and then back to the United States, where the Calders bought a run-down old farmhouse in western Connecticut. New light is shed on Calder’s lifelong interest in dance, theater, and performance, ranging from the Cirque Calder, the theatrical event that became his calling card in bohemian Paris to collaborations with the choreographer Martha Graham and the composer Virgil Thomson. More than 350 illustrations in color and black-and-white–including little-known works and many archival photographs that have never before been seen–further enrich the story.