Calder's 'stabiles' thrive outdoors

Alexander Calder was forced into a decision. It was in the early 1960s. The Galerie Maeght had successfully staged an exhibition of the American artist's large steel sculptures. But then this French gallery was going to put in a new lighting system that would eat up some of the height of the gallery. The lowered ceiling meant that a new sculpture he had made, which looked like a giant spider, would not easily fit. So Calder threw caution to the winds and "cast around for some place out of doors," he said, "where the sky would be my ceiling...."

There is no doubt that the sky is the only ceiling over the 18 large Calder sculptures assembled on the 500-acre outdoor site of the Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, N.Y., located about an hour from New York City. The show includes "Five Swords" (1976) shown here.

Calder's primary reputation was as inventor of the "mobile." He made thousands of these balancing acts of wire and flat steel "leaves" designed to respond to air movements with a grace that touches the universal. Paradoxically, his mobiles also have an unpredictability that keeps them in the down-to-earth realm of humor.

But for at least 20 years Calder also made a number of large-scale and outdoor sculptures in which movement was implied rather than actual. The sculptor Hans Arp had called these static Calders "stabiles." Calder accepted the term, just as he had earlier when Marcel Duchamp came up with the term "mobiles."

The mobiles have almost always been exhibited indoors; one exception, "Southern Cross" (1963), is included at Storm King. The stabiles have often been sited in urban spaces. But when these monumental sculptures - with their exuberance, elegance, boldness, and wit - have been freed from even the walling-in constraints of surrounding buildings, as at the Louisiana Museum in Denmark and Storm King, they prove themselves more than capable of vying with a vast open landscape that might too easily dwarf works less certain of their scale and presence. These strong-minded Calders are clearly in their element.

'Grand Intuitions: Calder's Monumental Sculptures' continues at Storm King Art Center until Nov. 15.

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