Monthly Archives: January 2014

Calder at LACMA: Art, science, and engineering in one irresistible package

The special Calder exhibit at LACMA until mid-July is, quite simply, superb.   It promises quite a bit and delivers even more.  The light, airy mobiles are anything but lightweight.  Large or small, they move to the breath in a quirky space designed by the ubiquitous Frank Gehry.

Christopher Knight of the LA Times calls it ‘a wonder of curved space’ in his engaging review.   Knight refers liberally to Einstein’s formulation of General Relativity and the popular maxim that matter tells space how to curve and space tells matter how to move.   It’s an interesting analogy although the actual connection to GR is as tenuous as the air currents nudging the pieces.  The physics of mobiles can, at one level, be understood with basic notions of forces and torques in balanceNewton’s laws are sufficient here.  Set them in motion and predicting their behavior… that gets hard quickly.

Take Un Effet du japonais (below).  Face on it looks less Japanese than two comets orbiting a common star.  The shadows look like Kokopelli.  And up close, there are multiple levels of linked arms, masses, and pivots that sweep and curve apparently in defiance of gravity.  It is not mentioned whether Calder calculated where the everything ought to go or whether he instinctively knew how to balance the parts as he built the whole.   Whatever the case, this show is worth repeat visits.

Calder – Un effet de Japonais © 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo courtesy Calder Foundation, New York/Art Resource, NY via the LACMA website