Objects in Space
November 1, 2012 - January 28, 2013

1. The quality or condition of being resonant.
2. Richness or significance, especially in evoking an association or strong emotion.
3. Physics The increase in amplitude of oscillation of an electric or mechanical system exposed to a periodic force whose frequency is equal or very close to the natural undamped frequency of the system.
4. Physics A subatomic particle lasting too short a time to be observed directly. The existence of such particles is usually inferred from a peak in the energy distribution of its decay products.
5. Acoustics Intensification and prolongation of sound, especially of a musical tone, produced by sympathetic vibration. 


For our current exhibition – Objects in Space – we continue our exploration of the endlessly fascinating period of artistic development in Paris during the 1920s and 30s through a focus on the works of Fernand Léger (1881 – 1955), Alexander Calder (1898 – 1976) and Joan Miró (1893 – 1983), three of the most innovative artists of the twentieth century. The exhibition takes its title “Objects in Space” from the superb Léger oil of 1931 (plate no.  ) and examines some of the parallel aesthetic interests and concerns that these three artists shared during this period and throughout the rest of their careers. We present works by these artists together, not in an attempt to document or enumerate how these artists “influenced” each other, but rather to examine how they solved certain artistic problems in related yet still unique ways, thus giving the works, when viewed together, a deep “resonance.”

Our specific focus for this exhibition will concern how these three artistic pioneers grappled with the problem of “objects in space,” or, put another way, the question of how to describe “motion” in art.  For Léger and Miró, motion would come to mean the “implied motion” of “objects” in the two dimensional “space” of the canvas.  Calder would make the astonishing leap to “plastic objects” in actual three dimensional “space” and fourth dimensional “time,” thereby freeing motion and inventing an entirely new art form, the “mobile.”   Interestingly, Calder rarely referred to these radically new works as sculptures, which for the first time would describe volumes without mass, but rather referred to them simply as “objects.”  Calder had deep and lifelong friendships with both Léger and Miró and provides the thematic bridge of the exhibition.

The impetus for the exhibition came as a result of an excellent lecture attended by my colleagues and I last April at the National Academy of Art by Jed Perl, art critic for The New Republic, entitled “Becoming Calder: Shaping the man who invented the mobile.”  Mr. Perl, who is in the early stages of work on a major new biography of Calder, discussed “the mystery” of Calder’s astonishingly rapid early development as an innovative abstract artist in Paris in the late 1920s and early 1930s:

“Calder was twenty eight years old, barely twenty eight years old, when he arrived in Paris in 1926.  He had been seriously dedicating himself to art, to being an artist, for about three years.  And he arrives in Paris. Think of Paris, think of France, think of Europe in the twenties.  Ideas about modern art are whizzing back and forth in every direction.  There are rival schools and theories and ideas . . .about Abstraction, Purism, and anti-Purism, and Surrealism.  And  (Calder) walks into the situation and within months he is doing these utterly original wire sculptures and within a couple of years he is producing abstract sculpture of a kind nobody has ever seen before, that is as original, as independent, as lucid, as anything that is being done in Europe.  How did this happen?”

Perl went on to “solve” this mystery by correcting what he described as a common “misunderstanding” about Calder’s parents, the artists Stirling and Nanette Lederer Calder.  Although Calder’s parents are often depicted as conservative, academic artists, Perl explained that they in fact saw themselves as “Moderns,” artists committed to a new kind of artistic vision.  It was their influence, he argued, and the influence of their circle of avant-garde fellow artists and friends, that prepared their son for his encounter with the “maelstrom of new art” in Paris.   Perl’s eloquent and insightful lecture made me wish that his new Calder biography wasn’t years from completion.  I was, however, inspired to read Calder – An Autobiography with Pictures   and delve deeper into the extensive (and rapidly expanding) critical literature on Calder’s life and work  to learn more about this American artist’s crucial time in Paris and his initial engagement with the work of the major European modernists.

In reading Calder’s autobiography one is struck by the breadth and depth of his friendships with so many of the most important artists of the early twentieth century, not only in painting and sculpture (Pascin, Foujita, Noguchi, Helion, Le Corbusier, von Doesburg, Duchamp, Mondrian, Tapié, Ozenfant , Masson, Tanguy, Miró, Léger to name just a few), but also in music (Satie, Varèse,  Thomson), and theatre (Martha Graham). Calder met artists such as Léger and Mondrian through the increasingly popular performances of his Cirque Calder and sought out others directly, such as Miró. Although his wire sculpture (“drawing in space”) brought him early success and fame in the Parisian art world, a visit to the studio of Mondrian in October 1930 was to be the catalyst for an abrupt conversion to abstraction.  Years later he was to expand on the origins of this conversion:

“My first abstract things grew out of meeting Mondrian, Léger, Miró.  At first I began to paint, but this lasted only a few weeks as I soon began to work with wire (with which I had long been conversant) and detached objects.  At first the objects were static (“stabiles”), seeking to give a sense of cosmic relationship.  Then I felt that these relations were possibly not the most important and I introduced flexibility, so that the relationships would be more general.  From that I went to the use of motion for its contrapuntal value, as in good choreography.”

Calder developed an immediate rapport with Léger: “Léger was interested in what I did, and we became very good friends.”   Léger introduced Calder to members of Abstraction-Création, a new organization founded in 1930 to promote abstract art and, by May 1931, Calder had been invited to join the group.   Indeed, the importance of this relationship is illustrated by Calder’s choice of Léger to write the introduction to, the first exhibition of his new, purely abstract work at the Galerie Percier exhibition of 1931.

In our current exhibition, we are fortunate to be able to present an exceptional selection of paintings by Léger from his Composition d’objects of 1929 through his monumental Composition aux trois profils of 1937, the very type of works Calder probably would have seen in Léger’s studio.  In the 1920s Léger’s work had undergone significant changes, shifting from post Cubist and abstract compositions painted prior to World War I to postwar compositions consisting of dramatic “contrasts” between “objects.” “The subject in painting has already been destroyed, just as avant-garde film destroyed the story line. I thought that the object, which had been neglected, was the thing to replace the subject.”   These relatively static compositions reflected Léger's response to le rappel à l'ordre--"the call to order"--a classicizing trend that had strongly influenced the arts since the end of the First World War.

In the late 1920s, however, Léger moved from the classicism of the “the call to order” to the more liberated forms of what he called the "new realism,"  founded upon his concept of the "the object in space.” "I placed objects in space so that I could take them as a certainty. I felt that I could not place an object on a table without diminishing its value... I selected an object, chucked the table away. I put the object in space, minus perspective. Minus anything to hold it there.”   The similar language and terminology used by both artists reflects their concern with similar aesthetic problems and ideas.  Calder would speak of the crucial importance of compositional “disparity,”  echoing Léger’s remarks about pictorial “contrasts.”  Both artists also used other similar terminology – such as “mechanical ballet,” the “ballet object” and the “performance object.”  Though works by Léger and Calder have been exhibited together in a few prior exhibitions, I think that future scholarly research into their relationship would be productive. 

Calder also had a very close friendship with Joan Miró, from their initial meeting in 1928 and continuing until his death.  Miró recalled, “We loved each other immediately.  He was a wonderful friend.”  Over the next almost five decades, they visited each other in France, Spain and the United States, corresponded frequently, exhibited together and worked on important projects such as the Spanish Pavilion at the World’s Fair of 1937.

Our exhibition includes works by Miró ranging from his Composition – quatre forms of 1937 through Persoannage, Oiseaux of 1976.  In particular, we are very pleased to present the magnificent oil Oiseaux dans l’Espace of 1959.  These works all reflect Miró long interest in the idea of “implied motion” on a two dimension canvas, through the use of biomorphic forms floating in indeterminate space.  Calder’s relationship with Miró and their mutual interest in cosmic themes and biomorphic surrealism has been explored in depth in several superb recent exhibitions such as Calder – Miró, The Surreal Calder and Alexander Calder: The Paris Years.    Regarding his compositional aims, Miró has stated:

"What I am looking for, in fact, is an immobile movement, something that would be the equivalent of what we call the eloquence of silence - or what Saint John of the Cross, I believe, called soundless music…In my paintings, the forms are both immobile and mobile.  They are immobile because the canvas is an immobile support.  They are immobile because of the cleanness of their contours and because of the kind of framing that sometimes encloses them.  But precisely because they are immobile, they suggest motion…Because there is no horizon line or any indication of depth, they shift in depth.  They also move across the surface, because a color or a line inevitably leads to a change in the angle of vision.  Inside the large forms there are small forms that move around.  And when you look at the painting as a whole, the large forms also become mobile.  You could even say that although they keep their autonomy, they push each other around. . . "

We are very pleased to be able to include a varied selection of works by Alexander Calder, from Filled Boulders, his gouache of 1946, to the beautiful mobile Red, Blue and Black Cascade of 1974.  Though we were unable to include any of his works created in the 1930s, we were able to include the extraordinary mobile New Ritou, which, though created in 1948, is extremely close to Calder’s earlier mobile of 1936 entitled Ritou.    Though he did not think of himself as a member of any one faction,   Calder was able to exhibit repeatedly with both the Abstraction-Creation group as well as with the Surrealists, an unusual accomplishment in this period of intense rivalry between different factions.  The brief space of this introduction is not adequate to address the extraordinary impact of Calder’s invention of the mobile, an event Jed Perl has referred to as “a paradigm shift in the history of art.”    We are very pleased, however, to reproduce in this catalogue the eloquent and poetic essay by Jean Paul Sartre entitled “Calder’s Mobiles,” which Calder considered to be the most perceptive essay ever written on his work.

We have not tried to organize a comprehensive exhibition, but simply have tried to bring together a small number of first-rate works by each of these extraordinary artists in an intimate setting, a setting which allows for the type of quiet contemplation often no longer possible at crowded museum exhibitions.  Fernand Léger, Alexander Calder and Joan Miró all shared a desire to create a performance of “objects in space.”  For all three artists, this interest was not restricted only to the realms of traditional painting and sculpture, but could also involve the “performative spaces” of the theatrical or cinematic stages, always ultimately in an attempt to understand the essential nature of our world.  Their works remain powerful and relevant today.

Miró, in a comment about painting that also could easily apply to the mobiles of his good friend Alexander Calder, once said:

"In a painting, you should be able to discover new things each time you look at it.  But you can look at a painting for a whole week and then never think about it again.  You can also look at a painting for a second and think about it for the rest of your life."

We hope that visitors to this exhibition will experience the powerful resonance of these extraordinary works by Fernand Léger, Alexander Calder and Joan Miró.