September 14, 2009 — When the University of Virginia Art Museum opened its doors this weekend after a five-month renovation, visitors were in for a surprise.
Hanging in the entry gallery is a mobile sculpture created by Alexander Calder, one of the most innovative sculptors of the 20th century. The piece, called "Untitled 1976," was installed just days before the doors opened.
"Calder's untitled mobile provided the finishing touch as we reopened the U.Va Art Museum," museum director Bruce Boucher said. "Its loan is a sign of enhanced possibilities offered by the renovation of the Bayly Building."
The mobile, almost 12 feet across, is made of sheet metal, rod and wire painted black. It moves and sways with changing air currents generated by the museum's new climate control system.
Boucher said the location was chosen because the mobile is contemporary with several nearby pieces, including Frank Stella's "Jerdon's Courser" (1976), Willard Midgette's large, figurative canvas "Lobby" of 1973, and Aboriginal bark paintings from the 1990s with their aerial perspectives of color. "They are all variations in abstraction," he said.
Calder's work has been described as "drawing in space," and the mobile casts shadows that constantly transform the surrounding atmosphere.
"He created a new form, a new genre that works with space and kinetics," said Elizabeth Hutton Turner, U.Va.'s vice provost for the arts. "His work exemplifies a leit motif University-wide for explorations across the arts and science disciplines."
Calder introduced the mobile and stabile genres to the sculpture form. With his training as an engineer coupled with a visual language of form, color, line and abstraction, he created sculpture that seems to defy gravity. This 1976 work is among the last he made before his death that same year.
Known as Sandy, Calder was the son and grandson of well-known sculptors. His father, Alexander Stirling Calder, produced many public installations, and his grandfather, Alexander Milne Calder, is best known for his statue of William Penn, which adorns the tower of Philadelphia City Hall.
The Calder Foundation's one-year loan of "Untitled 1976" to the U.Va. Art Museum is part of an ongoing relationship between the institutions. The new mobile joins another of the artist's works at the University. In March, his 1974 stabile, "Tripes," also on loan from the foundation, was installed in front of Peabody Hall as part of a University public art project.