The lion poop is worth waiting for.
June 29, 2006 9:09 PM   Subscribe

Alexander Calder's Circus. A movie by Carlos Vilardebo, in four parts: one two, three, four, [YouTube]. Calder developed his own one-man circus, with tiny performers made of "cork, wire, wood, yarn, paper, string, and cloth," carefully engineered to walk tightropes, dance, tame lions, lift weights, and engage in gymnastics and acrobatics in and above the ring. Acting as omniscient ringmaster, Calder would manipulate the wire performers while his wife wound circus music on the gramophone in the background. via [more inside]
posted by nickyskye (17 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Curator of the Museum of Modern Art, New York from 1935-46, James Johnson Sweeney wrote an excellent essay about Calder for the catalogue that accompanied the exhibition in 1944.

Calder invented the mobile and the stabile.
posted by nickyskye at 9:10 PM on June 29, 2006

I remember seeing this in the Baltimore Museum of Art years back when they had a Calder retrospective. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!
posted by Mr. Six at 9:16 PM on June 29, 2006

Nice work indeed
posted by at 9:37 PM on June 29, 2006

Wikipedia says his shows lasted 2 hours, that's like insane.
posted by parallax7d at 9:52 PM on June 29, 2006

narration by a man who has had two bottles of bourbon and is highly amused whenever he can keep his eyes open.
posted by dminor at 11:02 PM on June 29, 2006

There was a really great Calder exhibit recently at SFMOMA. Amazing stuff to see up close.

Thanks for this. I know what I'll be watching during lunch tomorrow...
posted by brundlefly at 11:38 PM on June 29, 2006

Love me some Calder! His works seem to pop up all over the place and it's always a pleasure to encounter them.
posted by shoepal at 12:11 AM on June 30, 2006

Calder would manipulate the wire performers while his wife wound circus music on the gramophone in the background.

At the moment I find this mildly distressing. Perhaps in the morning I'll feel otherwise.
posted by sourwookie at 12:17 AM on June 30, 2006

Torrent from Greylodge

I downloaded this a while back, I'll seed if I can get the computer the file is on set up again.
posted by blasdelf at 1:08 AM on June 30, 2006

OK, my favorite part of this is the weightlifter; I don't want to ruin it for you by describing what happens, but trust me, if you have a love for the absurd, it is hilarious.
posted by lilboo at 2:50 AM on June 30, 2006

I was at a private dinner party some years ago and was instantly drawn to an original Calder mobile hanging above the staircase. The hostess saw me and inquired about my love for Calder. She then showed me all the work they had of him. He was apparently a close family friend. Holy cow! There were lots of little sketches signed "love, Sandy".

I saw the components of the circus a decade earlier at the Whitney Museum in New York. It's just not the same as a live show.
posted by plinth at 3:22 AM on June 30, 2006

Great post, nickyskye - thanks. I like your post title! Heh, I had this in my bookmark folder for a possible post, too. I only recently learned of this, and pretty charming stuff it is, indeed.

These must have been very intimate performances because the pieces are so intricate. I picture the performances happening in almost a cocktail party setting. Wouldn't that have been fun to have been a guest at one of these performances!

Calder: the Breakthrough Years is a nice feature by SF MOMA with photos that has more on his experience with toys leading up to the Cirque and his subsequent wire sculptures.

Also see Tapestry
Calder had a lifelong fascination with the circus, which began in his mid-twenties when he first published illustrations in a New York journal of Barnum and Bailey’s Circus.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:15 AM on June 30, 2006

I love Maria Kalman, but I never appreciated her book on Calder's Circus until now.
posted by hamfisted at 8:24 AM on June 30, 2006

Mr. Six, Thank you for concisely answering a question in AskMeFi about how Calder's art works.

dminor, Your comment about Calder's voice and laughter prompted me to try and find out if he was an alcoholic or worked drunk. I couldn't find anything suggesting he was or did. A documentary I saw about Calder's life explained that in many ways he lived like a creative boy, truly involved with his art, enjoying the fun in it and laughing as he worked. At the time that movie was made, in 1961, Calder was 63 years old, yet he acted more like a 10 year old kid playing with toys.

blasdelf, Excellent contribution to the thread. I'm unable to download torrent, but I hope others are able and will enjoy the better visual.

plinth How neat to see Calders up close and personal. I deeply love his work and enjoyed seeing his Circus at the Guggenhein in 1965, when I was 11. It made a profound impression on me. He gets such fun out of life, his joie de vivre comes through. In the videos I posted I like numbers 3 and 4 the best , the little dog running in and out of the wheels, especially the lady with the birds, the pooping lion and in 4 the man and wife on the trapeze.

Calder was a tireless worker. Since 1987 the Calder Foundation has documented more than 17,000 of his works for future publication in a catalog raisonne. While the odds of locating a major sculpture is negligible, original Calder art sometimes appears in the form of witty gifts he crafted for his friends and neighbors: Stationary bearing original art, personalized silver and steel jewelry, kitchen utensils spun out of wire, an aluminum bread pan, birds and pull train toys forged from tin cans, andirons, a wood-carved mouse, a flower shaped from pipe cleaners or a dinner bell made by hanging a wire-suspended cork upside down inside a glass bottle.

His friends have described Calder as a curious, quiet, likeable man whose hands and thoughts were always in motion. He was serious about matters of the world and totally devoid of pretensions. His art can be viewed in numerous books and at many museums including the Whitney Museum of Art (NYC) and Hartford's Wadsworth Athenaeum. In addition to having a flair for new approaches to art, Calder had a flair for art itself. His work is distinctive. After spending a little time the man you'll discover that artist's hand was a fresh and original as his imagination.

A fun anecdote: P.S.: The current Calder show at SFMOMA reminds illustrator Dugald Stermer (a CCA faculty member) of going to lunch in the late '60s in New York with Alexander (Sandy, and he wanted everyone to call him that) Calder and Calder's wife, Louisa. Stermer brought along a young lady and a gift for the sculptor: Calder's trademark garment, a red flannel shirt, size XXXL.

Calder ordered red wine for the table, "and he started pouring for all of us,' Stermer recalls. Calder was around 70 at the time, and perhaps he had Parkinson's. Whatever the reason, "his shaking hand caused the wine to spray in all directions.' Stermer thought of taking over the pouring, but Calder's wife shook her head to stop him. "He gleefully proceeded to get some of the wine in all our glasses. ... I learned a possible reason why Calder favored red shirts.'

Just came across this very nice interview with Calder, while trying to find info about his wife, Louisa, to post for sourwookie. Wish I'd posted it with the main post, anyway here it is.
posted by nickyskye at 9:02 AM on June 30, 2006

I love Calder. So formalistic, but fun at the same time. There was a small mobile of his in my college library that I used to study under. Not many people knew what it was, and I wasn't about to tell them.
posted by bardic at 11:10 AM on June 30, 2006

anecdote: A young woman began dating and eventually moved into a friend's house down south. Upon visiting the house for the first time after her arrival I noticed a multitude of new touches, as might be expected. After talking and getting the "tour," I excused myself to use the familiar first floor restroom, a cramped under-the-stairs affair with garish vertical black and white striped wallpaper and a lone un-shaded bulb which gave the room a sort of Lynchian Twin Peaks feel. Whilst going about my business I noticed a new addition to the tiny room, a drawing in a familiar style hanging just above the toilet. Upon my exit, I inquired as the origin and authenticity of the work only to find it was, in fact, real and had been a gift from Mr. Calder. I believe my response, heavy with indignation was along the lines of "You've got a fucking Calder hanging in the bathroom?!"

A fair bit later I learned that due to the prolific nature of the artist, not all of his works are worth what one might expect and a cramped bathroom can be a perfectly acceptable venue for showcasing his work.
posted by shoepal at 12:35 AM on July 3, 2006

madamjujujive, Enjoyed your additional links, thank you.

bardic, A private, tender companionship with a mobile. Isn't art interesting that way? Yes, you hit it right on the noggin' fun and formalistic. The serious side of his art has an intense leanness to it, clean, organic and aerial. While his circus has a marvelously entertaining sordid side, sinewy, absurd, ragged and complexly human. His circus is so full of surprises.

shoepal, It pisses me off, nyuck nyuck, that a sacred Calder was above the john. Bathroom art? Damn.
posted by nickyskye at 9:52 PM on July 3, 2006

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