Installed in one and a half days, Calder Shadows at Venus Over Manhattan is a remarkable experiment. 11 Alexander Calder mobiles and stabiles occupy a darkened and otherwise empty exhibition space. Each piece is uniquely illumined with basic exhibition lighting fixtures and bulbs to emphasise its shadows’ qualities. The one exception is a wire subjective portrait exhibited alone in a separate room. It is lit by a small fibre optic bulb providing shadow with an electric crispness which supersedes traditional lighting techniques.
This exhibition is best suited for the curious and independent explorer of art and aesthetic. The overall atmosphere is one of newness. The setting is simple, yet striking and immediate. Darkness, light, movement and shadow are the main compositional elements. There is also music and sometimes a slight gust of air. But there is not anything to direct the viewer toward a particular conclusion about the work and there is no suggestion about how to approach it, either didactic or through space orienting cues.
Morning Cobweb and Red Curlique (intermediate maquette and maquette, respectively) are two stabiles operating together in one corner of the exhibiting space. Though still, their voluminous shadows impart a state of arrested motion. Their geometric structure utilises space for design amplification and is also of space, a reference point in a non-linear narrative about cosmic design.
Four of the pieces are Untitled and one is a mobile in the centre of the room. Its shadow is a system of seven vaguely leaf shaped elements, which move together to form an ever-changing constellation of very slowly moving parts. Abstraction in art as a facilitator for revelation of universal principles is, like with the aforementioned stabiles, alive.
The stellar relationships which concerned Calder from the start of his entry into modern art are evident throughout the exhibition. The shadows amplify the interactivity of the exhibition space, operating as a fulcrum in the dialogue between artwork and observer. Features that make a Calder piece unique — asymmetric spaces and volumes, or graceful yet unconventional oscillations — are more transparent because the potential distraction of the work itself is subdued through darkness. Through the shadows the dance and play of the cosmos abstractly conceived becomes more evident.
Calder Shadows, 4 November until 21 December, Venus Over Manhattan, 980 Madison Avenue, Third Floor, New York, NY 10075. venusovermanhattan.com
Image: Installation view. Courtesy the gallery.