Alexander Calder's aerodynamic mobiles and monumental stabiles may be well-known fodder to modern art aficionados, but a new show that opened at New York's Dominique Lévy gallery this week is set to surprise even those most familiar with his work. Entitled 'Multum in Parvo', the Latin translation for 'much in little', the exhibition puts over 40 rare miniature sculptures by Calder under the spotlight in a reverent setting, specially designed by the architect Santiago Calatrava.
Spanning more than 30 years and comprised of rarely seen maquettes, models and studies, the smallest of which stands just over an inch high, the exhibition is an unreal presentation of Calder's recognisable style and methodology. In spite of the works' diminutive scale, no detail has been sacrificed. Tiny models made from coiled coloured wire share similarities with Calder's recognisable jewellery pieces, and are both delicate and robust at the same time. Intricate constructions, such as 'Eight Black Dots' (1950) and 'Untitled' (1947) articulate a profundity, despite only being made from painted sheet metal and wire. Small-scale stabile studies, which Calder often made as part of early proposals for clients, buoy and move just as their life-size counterparts would do. There are six of these in the show, including a model for the artist's submission to the Smithsonian Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. in 1939, made from wood, wire, lead and metal. They are being exhibited together for the first time in 15 years.
'For me, Calder is the only artist who's been able, over and over again, to go from the miniature to the monumental, and the monumental to the miniature, to the point of wondering, "is miniature not monumental"? This is really what we wanted to share with you in this exhibition,' the gallerist Lévy says.
'Intimacy to me was essential. We were fortunate with the size of these rooms because they are not monumental. There's an incredible joie de vivre and tenderness on display. What I really wanted is [for visitors] to feel the power of the small works so that you actually forget that the works are small, because they're far from.'
To make the most of the differences in scale, Calatrava and his son, Gabriel, created an abstract curvilinear landscape that divides both floors of the gallery's space. It's meandering form harks back to the mid-century architectural aesthetic that prevailed during the sculptures' creation. The larger works are each displayed on elegant mirrored plinths that balance on top of thin poles which emerge from this setting, allowing viewers to examine their assembly from all angles and up close. In contrast, the tinier thumb-sized sculptures are exhibited in mirrored glass cases, where they can still be admired closely, albeit from a safe distance away.
'We have chosen to deal with the space in a way that the objects are not only tangible, but they are also visible in all directions. They grow around us, as architecture does,' says Calatrava, whose artistic approach to engineering and architecture mirrors Calder's engineering approach to art. Sculptures and environment combined, 'Multum in Parvo' is an inspiring, heartfelt tribute to Calder's enduring legacy.