Alexander Calder turns snooker into an art

The American artist Alexander Calder (1898-1976) introduced movement to sculpture. The exhibition ‘Calder Now’ in Kunsthal Rotterdam shows a selection of his oeuvre in combination with works by ten contemporary artists.

Sometimes one can annoy a highly trained art curator with a very banal comment. A snooker table, a work of the Argentine artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, has been installed at the exhibition ‘Calder Now’ in Kunsthal Rotterdam. ‘Everyone can play’, curator Dieter Buchhart invited the journalists present. We were already preparing for a break of a maximum of 147. Until we made the curator aware that the pink and green balls were missing. “Oh, I do not know,” he replied.

Of course, that’s not important either. The snooker table, over which hangs a small work by Calder, perfectly reflects the philosophy of the American artist: everything is in constant motion. Nothing stays the same. With a game of snooker, this is also the case – except for the beginning of the frame. Whoever plays a ball will always change the table and leave it differently. Vintage Calder.

The essence

  • ‘Calder Now’ is a new exhibition in Kunsthal Rotterdam.
  • It shows works by the American artist Alexander Calder (1898-1976) and ten contemporary artists.
  • Calder is known for its mobiles, sculptures that seem to move.
  • He was one of the galleon figures in the avant-garde of the 1930s.

The exhibition at Kunsthal Rotterdam is not a retrospective of Calder. She exhibits about twenty works from his oeuvre in combination with sculptures and installations by ten contemporary artists.

Calder has long had to fight against his reputation. His fragile works of art were often dismissed as childish or too easy. But in the 1920s and 1930s, he was an avant-garde artist. He was looking for a way to introduce a fourth dimension into sculptures with the concept of time. To achieve this, he introduced movement into the art of sculpting. Later, he added a fifth dimension: sound.

It happens when the body is the anatomy of the time, Ernesto Neto.

Calder, born in the US state of Pennsylvania, came from an artist family. His father was a sculptor, his mother painted. Oddly enough, his parents did not want him to become an artist, and Calder trained as a mechanical engineer.

But the allure of art was too great. In 1926, Calder moved to Paris, where he immediately created one of his most notable works of art: ‘Cirque Calder’, a miniature circus. Calder made the figures and attributes of everyday objects and materials. With his ‘Cirque Calder’ he acted as a kind of puppet master. The movement was already there then.


When in 1930 he met the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian in the French capital, he turned to the avant-garde. In his case, it meant a combination of art, science and technology.

This culminated in the creation of the so-called ‘mobiles’, a concept invented by the French artist Marcel Duchamp. Calder was the first to remove his sculptures from their plinth, from the ground, and from the wall. He hung his creations on wire. This allowed his fragile and lightweight designs to move easily in wind and air currents.

‘The lost compass’, Olafur Eliasson.

Sometimes he discreetly muted an engine in his sculptures. As long as they moved, as long as they seemed to defy gravity and float. Calder invited visitors to touch and move his artwork. Unfortunately, this is no longer possible. Too delicate.

Calder’s strength lies in the hypnotic nature of his work. One can keep looking at his fine threads and surfaces, how ingeniously he combines different elements in his sculptures. Calder elevated subtlety to art.


This is a bit unlike contemporary artists on display. These are often much more explicit, which does not necessarily affect the quality. They are just as inventive in their own way as Calder was in his day. Take a look at the installation ‘It Happens When the Body is Anatomy of Time’ by Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto. The work consists of large lycra bags, filled with wonderfully fragrant spices such as saffron, cumin and cloves. The bags look like pillars of Greek temples.

In the exhibition’s catalog, the artists explain their relationship to Calder, some in more detail than others. At Neto, she is sweet at first: ‘My first love mother had the book’ Calders universe ‘. The connection became more serious as he studied Calder’s work and was fascinated by his four dimensions.

Alexander Calder was looking for a way to add a fourth dimension to sculptures with the concept of time. Movement was the solution.

The Icelandic contemporary grandmaster Olafur Eliasson shows a light sculpture and his statue ‘The lost compass’. The connection with Calder is flimsy, the two works are so much the more impressive.

Much more light-hearted is the Swiss artist Roman Signer. At the exhibition, he created a white shirt whose sleeve hangs from a balloon. You look and keep looking. Will the balloon eventually lift the shirt off the ground? Maybe maybe not. Just as exciting as Calder’s gliding art.

‘Calder Now’ runs until May 29 in Kunsthal Rotterdam, the catalog is published by Lannoo.

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