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Alexander Calder, “Aluminum Leaves, Red Post” (1941), painted sheet metal, 60 3/4 x 40 3/4 x 42 1/2 inches (The Lipman Family Foundation; long-term loan to the Whitney Museum of American Art, © 2017 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), photo by Brian Kelley)

Alexander Calder is known for his use of movement in sculpture, but aside from some mobiles gently swaying, museum goers rarely get to witness that aspect of his work. Calder: Hypermobility at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York features performances and activations throughout its run, including some recently restored sculptures not triggered since Calder’s lifetime.

A few pieces gradually rotate, revealing unexpected shapes and colors. Some have more frenetic, motor-driven action, while others have gracefully suspended elements. The Whitney has an online calendar of when to catch a kinetic event. Hypermobility was organized by Curator of Performance Jay Sanders in collaboration with the Calder Foundation, and its president, Calder’s grandson Alexander S. C. Rower, is leading some of the one-time activations. Other sculptures are motorized or animated by touch more regularly in the gallery.

Calder began experimenting with mechanized sculptures in the 1930s, and the work in Hypermobility dates from that era up to the 1950s. Although the Calder mobile is ubiquitous, and the colossal Calder sculpture a popular public art presence and a regular in architectural renderings, the performative nature of his work remains less recognized. For those who can’t make it to the Whitney, the museum has shared a series of videos of the moving sculptures on YouTube, with some embedded below. They include Alexander S. C. Rower presenting the one-time activation of “Tightrope” (1936), with spindly objects balancing on a wire between two ebony carvings; the disorienting curls of “The Helices” (1944); the surprising layers of “Black Frame” (1934); and “Two Spheres” (1931) with white orbs floating across a dark void like lost stars.

Calder: Hypermobility continues at the Whitney Museum of American Art (99 Gansevoort Street, Meatpacking District, Manhattan) through October 23.

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...