2013 - 2014

Trees - Naming Abstraction January 17 – April 27, 2014

The Fondation Beyeler is presenting its second Calder Gallery in cooperation with the Calder Foundation, which will be devoted to an unexplored aspect of the artist’s work. In 1933, due to increasing concern over war preparations, Calder and his wife, Louisa James, left Paris and returned to their native United States, settling permanently in an 18th-century farmhouse in Roxbury, Connecticut. The environment had a direct impact on Calder, ushering in a new phase in his artistic development. External space increasingly became a defining component of his works.

The first mobiles Calder made in his Paris years – in the spirit of the artistic group Abstraction-Création – were geometrically inspired with movement often mechanically created by small cranks or motors. In Roxbury, natural elements such as wind and weather opened up new possibilities to Calder.

In addition to geometric features, his works increasingly engaged a surreal vocabulary of perceptible biomorphic shapes. This decisive period also saw the creation of Calder’s first outdoor sculptures, faintly reminiscent of pinnacles on the top of towers or weather vanes, which embrace these new artistic possibilities and provide the point of departure for the monumental outdoor works Calder created after the Second World War. 

The presentation at the Fondation Beyeler starts with a striking group of 1939 standing mobiles created as approximately 2 meter-high models for the avant-garde redesign of the Bronx Zoo and intended to be reproduced in steel on a monumental scale, providing a tree-like set for the zoo’s African habitat. The project was not realised in the end, but it bears impressive witness to the innovative potential of Calder’s artistic ideas.

Although all the works are abstractions in space, their titles denote particular moments of motion, repetitions of form and elaborate equilibria. Abstraction becomes tangible here, as is demonstrated by two individual works that have been selected. Organic associations determine the works’ forms with, for example, the crowns of trees, cascades of branches and sequences of leaves. The free play of the many works presented in the museum’s interior space merges into a veritable “Calder Forest.” The consequent interaction between the internal and external space evokes a theme that is important for the Fondation Beyeler, whose collection is embedded in a harmonious ensemble of architecture and landscape.

Finally, a second group of works, including original and related intermediate maquettes, explores the creation of Tree, from the collection of Ernst and Hildy Beyeler. This summer the monumental standing mobile will return to its customary place on the grounds of the Berower Park surrounding the Fondation Beyeler.

The Fondation Beyeler initiated a programme of collaboration with the Calder Foundation in 2012 that is projected to run for several years. Works from the two foundations’ collections will be brought together and exhibited in a series of curated presentations in the "Calder Gallery". The aim is to provide a permanent presence at the Fondation Beyeler of works by the major American artist Alexander Calder (1898–1976), of a kind unique in Europe, and to enhance knowledge of his oeuvre. The Fondation Beyeler is thereby establishing a link both to its great exhibition "Calder – Miró" (2004) and to its series of "Rothko Rooms".

Alexander Calder
Trees - Naming Abstraction

Interview with Oliver Wick (Curator) and Alexander S. C. Rower (President, Calder Foundation) about the current exhibition.