Picks and Pans Review: The Intimate World of Alexander Calder

updated 02/26/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/26/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Daniel Marchesseau

His monumental mobiles transformed the landscape of American art. Fourteen years after Alexander Calder's death, they stand as his best's known legacy.

Calder, one of the century's most famous sculptors, brought the same brilliant, lighthearted inventiveness to bear on art that he created primarily for his private domain. During his lifetime he produced an extraordinary body of smaller objects ranging from wire sculptures, drawings and small mobiles to toys and jewelry. The often fascinating products of that pursuit are the subject of this book.

Nothing escaped Calder's restless hands. For his homes in France and the United States, he reshaped household utensils—strainers, spatulas and candle-snuffers—and tableware into whimsical yet rigorous works of art. He designed toilet paper holders and magazine racks, made toys out of clothespins and empty olive oil tins for his children and grandchildren. Calder, who invariably carried a pair of pliers and wire in his pocket, once whipped together a red flannel-and-wire "nose mask" for artist Saul Steinberg. For his wife, Louisa, and other friends in their circle, he created necklaces, bracelets, brooches and elaborate combs.

Other books have dealt with various aspects of Calder's domestic universe, but The Intimate World of Alexander Calder, with nearly 700 illustrations and never-before-published family snapshots, is the most comprehensive visual survey to date.

The text by Marchesseau, curator of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, offers little in the way of fresh scholarship. Marchesseau has relied heavily on excerpts from Calder's autobiography and that of his sister, Margaret Calder Hayes. As for the design of the book, which at times resembles an expensive mail order catalog, it does not always do justice to the great man's work.

An exhibition, The Intimate World of Alexander Calder, including some 350 of the artist's objects, is on display at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York City until March 11. The show moves to the Minneapolis Institute of Art at the end of April. (Abrams, $85)

From Our Partners