Still Calder


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It's art, ok? There's nothing to "get"

I took the opportunity to go downtown with my sister this morning to get a dose of the city. My sister, Filbert, found seasonal work at the Architectural Society selling gifts and arranging tours and, being the holiday season, she had to work on a Sunday. I didn’t have plans so it seemed like as good a time as any to spend a day downtown.

The Loop was very quiet. The weather was cold but not intolerable. I contrived to join a walking tour of the South Loop talking about the various early skyscrapers in Chicago’s library of architectural history. It was an excellent tour, especially for anybody who has read “Devil in the White City” which mentions quite a lot of the buildings and their architects. Many of the buildings that the docent discussed were buildings that I’d walked past many times without recognizing their significance in the landscape of Chicago culture (pun not intended, but delightful nonetheless).

The tour took up half the day and I wasn’t sure that, as a transplant to California with my increasingly thinning blood, that I had the cold resistance to manage a second walking tour so I decided that I’d try to check out the Museum of Contemporary Art. MOCA was a Chicago attraction that I had passed many times (my former bus route went past it twice a day) but I’d never gone in.  Now seemed like as good a time as any. As long as I didn’t want to see the special exhibit on David Bowie then admission was only $7… less than half the price of parking downtown for the day.

Much of the art at MOCA went completely over my head. I find that contemporary art tends to rely heavily on its context within the aesthetic of the artist to derive much of its meaning, so an exhibit of large scale photographs taken of other photographs (for example) seemed like a series of rather opaque statements about implied subtext. Shows how much that I know, right?

I was pleased to discover a small exhibit of Calder mobiles. This, at least, seemed like artwork that I could enjoy at face value. I find that Calder is worth seeing in person, especially when it comes to his mobiles because so much of the life of his work comes from the movement of the piece and of the viewer around it. I still recall being very impressed with a Calder work at the National Gallery that I saw ten years ago because of this movement.

But the mobiles at MOCA were still. No doubt it was by design that the entire exhibit was carefully spaced away from the viewers so that nobody would be tempted to poke at them but this also rendered the works almost completely motionless. I tried blowing towards them in an effort to set them in motion, but managed to elicit only a limp drifting of movement as if the mobiles were captive creatures kept for too long in a cage.

I was disappointed by the stillness. So much art is still. So much meaning is in movement. It makes me want to try to build a mobile of my own. You know, in my free time. J/K. LOL. But stillness aside, it was a wonderful visit to the windy city.

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~ by Gwydhar Gebien on December 28, 2014.

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