A kinship of aims and methods is on display in D.C.

`Calder Miro' will open Saturday at the Phillips

Arts: museums, literature

October 07, 2004|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

In 1928, a mutual acquaintance introduced American sculptor Alexander Calder to the Spanish-born surrealist painter Joan Miro, both of whom were living in Paris at the time.

Calder, whose father and grandfather had been sculptors in Philadelphia, had asserted his independence from family tradition by rejecting the bronze and marble of his forebears and choosing instead to create fanciful figures out of wire and sheet metal that moved by the imperceptible action of invisible air currents.

Miro, too, had struggled to throw off the conventions of 19th-century painting he had learned in art school in favor of a highly personal, non-representational visual vocabulary of abstract signs and symbols that owed more to poetry and music than to pictorial description.

Though the two men hit it off immediately, at first neither artist quite grasped the deep symmetry linking their individual styles.

But as the friendship developed, both artists and the public came to recognize a profound kinship of aims and methods: At times, Calder's whimsical wire sculptures -which fellow artist Marcel Duchamp had given the name "mobiles" - seemed like three-dimensional transcriptions of Miro's cryptic paintings, and vice versa.

This is the engaging premise of Calder Miro, a delightful exhibition that opens Saturday at the Phillips Collection in Washington. The show traces the influence of these two 20th-century masters on each other from the heady cultural ferment of 1920s Paris and 1930s Spain to mid-century Manhattan.

Both artists developed wholly original ways to create movement through color, shape and line. In the 1930s, Calder adopted the biomorphic forms of Miro's paintings in his constructions and mobiles, while Miro's transparent forms floating in fields of color recalled Calder's lively wire figures.

The exhibition is organized thematically, with sections devoted to the two men's shared passion for children's toys, the circus, the ballet, portraits and other subjects.

It also includes a section on two of the large public projects that the artists collaborated on during their careers: works for the Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 Paris World Fair and the decoration of the Terrace Plaza Hotel in Cincinnati a decade later.

This is a show that the whole family, especially those with children, will enjoy for its exhilarating flights of visual fancy.

"Calder Miro" runs through Jan. 23. The museum is at 1600 21st St. N.W., in Washington. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 7 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors. Call 202-387-2151.

For more Arts events, see Page 38.

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