National Portrait Gallery Opens Calder’s Portraits A New Language

The Opens Calder’s Portraits A New Language in Washington presents Calder’s Portraits: A New Language on view, March 11, through August 14, 2011.

Best known for his abstract mobiles and stabiles, Alexander Calder (1898-1976) was also a prolific portraitist. Throughout his career Calder portrayed entertainment, sports, and art-world figures, including Josephine Baker, Jimmy Durante, Babe Ruth, and Charles Lindbergh, as well as colleagues Marion Greenwood, Fernand Léger, and Saul Steinberg, to name a few.

Typically, Calder worked in the unorthodox medium of wire, a flexible linear material, which he shaped into three-dimensional portraits of considerable character and nuance. Suspended from the wall or ceiling, the portraits are free to move; because of this mobility, they seem—like their subjects—to have a life of their own. This unprecedented exhibition will feature Calder’s work alongside contemporary documents—photographs, drawings, and especially caricatures by such artist-illustrators as Paolo Garretto, Miguel Covarrubias, and Paul Colin—and will pose questions regarding the line between fine-art portraiture and caricature. The exhibition will also shed light on an often overlooked aspect of Alexander Calder’s career, as well as on broader narratives of American culture of the twentieth century.

Barbara Zabel is the guest curator for this exhibition.

Image: Alexander Calder, Self-Portrait. Oil on canvas. 1925. 50.8cm x 40.6cm (20″ x 16″). National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; Gift of the artist © 2010 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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