Although kinetic sculpture is considered to be Calder’s most significant body of work, he was also one of several modern artists who successfully experimented with elements of soft sculpture and tapestry, working closely with the Aubusson atelier up until the end of his life. This compelling new exhibition looks into the story behind one of his last artistic projects.
Calder’s interest in Latin American craftsmanship developed in 1972, after Manhattan socialite Kitty Meyer asked for his help to fundraise for survivors of Nicaragua’s devastating earthquake. Meyer was a Polish Jew who had fled to Managua during the Holocaust and ended up living in America fifteen years later. Having gained a strong presence on the New York art scene among auction houses, dealers and collectors, she sent out letters to artists requesting a donation of prints or multiples, and Calder was one of only five who responded to the plea. Meyer visited him afterwards, gifting him a typical Nicaraguan hammock as a token of her gratitude. Calder, intrigued by the intricate skill of the weaving and keen to contribute further to the cause, was inspired to create a total of fourteen designs to be made into hammocks or wall hangings.
Working closely with Nicaraguan and Guatemalan master-weavers in 1975, Calder oversaw the reproduction of his original gouaches into limited edition jute tapestries, personally approving the interpretations and colours of the dye. The technique was specially altered from weaving to braiding, due to the difficult shapes and complexity of patterns that Calder’s work presented. Calder was pleased to find that the undulating lines, bold graphics and playful imagery of his signature forms were translated perfectly, and he subsequently had several of the hand-crafted pieces sent to his own home in France.
Refusing to limit himself, Calder embraced several techniques over his lifetime - moving seamlessly between the immediacy of drawing, the intricacies of his famous wire structures, and a fierce commitment to painting something new every day. Falling halfway between mobiles and stabiles, the Tapis are a significant branch of Calder’s overall artistic process, anchoring his spontaneous lyrical abstraction within the depth and strength of a tapestry.
Five of these tactile works – four wall hangings and one hammock – form the heart of the exhibition. Shown alongside a wide selection of gouaches and early drawings, they are given a visually rich graphic and painterly context.
Leading up to Calder’s first major UK retrospective at the Tate Modern in November, this curated exhibition is a unique insight into a well-loved artist’s personality. The bright circus of leaping zigzags, circles, acrobatic starbursts and swiss-roll spirals continue to illustrate the astonishing impact of Calder’s creative brilliance, compassionate nature and technical expertise.