Form, Balance, Joy
It is an irony of contemporary aesthetics that accessibility is not considered a virtue. A degree of alienation between the general audience and the creator is a given, and a work of universal appeal is suspect. Any creation that is an uninhibited celebration of color, shape, and motion would go begging in a world of minimalist forms or conceptual constructs. Humor as a quality is particularly suspect. Alexander Calder not only produced work based on these elements, he made the first mobiles as a young artist in Paris. However, Calder and other modernist sculptors are undergoing a rehabilitation, more frequently referenced and considered by younger artists as a source of inspiration. In this context, the current exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Form, Balance, Joy, is a delight, assembling a comprehensive collection of Calder’s work combined with an accompanying gallery of contemporary sculptors.
Standing in the middle of the Calder exhibit is an experience akin to suspension in a tank filled with Mondrian’s fish. The wholly organic stabiles are a bank of small reefs. Apparently Calder did credit a visit to Mondrian’s studio as “shocking” him into modernism. Some smaller works contain presentiments of the current importance of repurpose and recycling: a smiling face is contrived from bits of broken glass and wires; the sculpture Bird is an assemblage of unpainted scavenged cans.
Calder did once work as a toymaker and later joked that his fans were all under age six. An element of playfulness appears to be the most common element among the seven contemporary artists in the southern gallery. Kristi Lippire, the only female artist in the group, utilizes everyday objects to create with an overt humorous aspect: her droll balloon-like piece in the sculpture garden is the more successful of her included works.
Jason Middlebrook’s piece, "From the Forest to the Mill to the Home to the Store to the Home to the Street and Back Again," is a departure from the exhibit’s lightness in tone and form. The very stationary mobile is suspended yards over the heads of viewers, a massive conflagration of scrap wood collected from Chicago alleys—flooring, cabinets, drawers, and doors—counterbalanced by the trunk of a tree. As heavy as some of the Calder pieces are light, it provides a fitting contrast in the midst of homage.