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Art: Calder and contemporaries at OCMA

Orange County Museum of Art's 'Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy,' opening in April, explores the modernist master's subtle influence.

March 06, 2011|By Jori Finkel, Los Angeles Times
  • Jason Meadows, "Pig Latin," 2008. Painted and welded wrought iron, steel, and rebar. From the exhibition "Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy" at Marc Foxx Gallery, Los Angeles.
Jason Meadows, "Pig Latin," 2008. Painted and welded wrought… (Robert Wedemeyer / Marc…)

In terms of legacy, Calder is the Hemingway of the art world. His work is so popular, accessible and deceptively easy that the most au courant scholars tend to pass it over, and other artists don't always own up to its influence.

"It's almost like Calder is invisible because he's so ubiquitous," says L.A.-based artist Jason Meadows, who used to walk by one of his massive public sculptures as a student at the Art Institute of Chicago. "When I was getting educated into the world of fine art, Abstract Expressionist painters were really hot and I got really charmed by Pop Art. Calder wasn't someone you would think about."

It was only later, in graduate school at UCLA, that he became interested in Alexander Calder as a fabricator who exposed his own construction process and industrial materials — "these giant plates of steel cut into organic forms with giant rivets holding it all together."

Making the seams visible is also a hallmark of Meadows' sculpture, which also embraces bright color, though often more funky or jarring than Calder's. And it's one reason why Meadows was tapped for the Orange County Museum of Art show opening April 10 that pairs seven contemporary artists — mainly sculptors who work with everyday objects — with the modernist master: "Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy."

A larger version of the show ran last year at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, giving Meadows time to mull over Calder's significance. He sees resourcefulness as part of it. For, along with making monumental mobiles and standing mobiles, or stabiles, Calder had a knack for turning found objects into kitchen utensils and working magic with wire and a set of clippers.

"It's something I really appreciate, because I do it with my own work: You solve the problem with the materials at hand," he says. The 38-year-old artist likewise appreciates the engineering feats behind the apparently whimsical art, noting that Calder was trained as a mechanical engineer.

Just try to make a Calder-style mobile yourself. Meadows did so last winter when his twin sons were newborns. That nursery mobile didn't pan out but led directly to a work in his current show at the Tanya Bonakdar gallery in New York. "Holly Golightly" is a stylishly patterned female figure built from pieces of hand-painted aluminum and steel that look like found objects but were formed by the artist.

The Calder touch? The sculpture hangs from the ceiling like a mobile. "It suddenly became apparent to me that you could make a figure from head down instead of feet up," making a stable base less of an issue, Meadows says. "You can create a really light figure with a lot of movement. Bump into it, or the wind is right, and she starts to dance."

jori.finkel@latimes.com

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