CALDER by Jed Perl
Kirkus Star


The Conquest of Time: The Early Years: 1898-1940
Age Range: 1898 - 1976
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A meticulously researched biography of one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century.

New York Review of Books contributor and former New Republic art critic Perl (Art History/New School for Social Research; Magicians and Charlatans: Essays on Art and Culture, 2012, etc.) chronicles how Alexander Calder (1898-1976) grew from a crafty boy into a master sculptor who, along with Picasso and Miró, pushed the world of art toward the frontiers of modernism. Calder wrote of “trying to get at ‘evolution’ [from] toys to sculpture,” and Perl divines exactly this thread amid a tremendous amount of source material and shows the progression from Calder’s tinkering childhood to the celebrated, clowning Cirque Calder of the 1920s, all the way to Calder’s inclusion in the Museum of Modern Art’s epochal exhibitions “Cubism and Abstract Art” and “Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism” of the mid-1930s. The author unveils a network of Calder’s influences. “Artistic inspiration,” he writes, “involves instincts, apprehensions, and revelations ranging from the subliminal to the nearly spiritual, and the zigzagging, even ricocheting connections need to be mapped in ways that defy strict rules of evidence.” Calder’s parents were both artists, and although they encouraged him to pursue a degree in engineering, they also exposed him to art that would later shape his career. Duchamp’s 1912 painting Nude Descending a Staircase, for example, possessed a kineticism that would eventually contribute to Calder’s understanding of the vast conceptual capabilities of art. With wire fashioned into spirals and mobiles gently spinning through the air, Calder’s lines would later adopt a sense of movement over time, a fourth-dimensional change through a three-dimensional space. Most triumphant is the way in which Perl explains how to read Calder’s challenging forms; he clearly discusses the “difference between a volume and a void” and “the disparity that exists between form, masses and movement.” “Sculpture could be a matter of lines,” he explains, capable of synthesizing “science with sensibility, the engineered with the empathetic.”

Not only an essential record of the first 40 years of Calder’s life, but an exceptional chronicle of the genesis of modernism.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-307-27272-0
Page count: 704pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2017


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