There was a show on PBS a few weeks ago, a documentary of sorts about a French photographer and experimental filmmaker, made by herself, or so I gathered, and she had this interesting life with tangential contact with those more famous, as these things usually go. I missed the beginning, and it was all in French with English subtitles, and so my impressions of it were probably more impressionistic than intended.
At one point she mentioned meeting the artist Alexander Calder, known for his mobiles, like this one in the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, which is, perhaps, my favorite building in the world — but I better emphasize perhaps, so as not to give you too much.
She said he was a delightful, kind person, and as she talked about him they showed a picture she took of him on a beach, jumping to catch a ball, smiling. And the subtitle came up as she spoke in French: “What joy.”
I have a tenuous relationship with this sculpture because when I walk along the walkway just beneath it I feel a tremendous vertigo, and since the sculpture is slowly rotating and gets quite close to the walkway floor I feel as if it will sweep me off and over — or that I’ll have a compulsion to grab onto it and swing free. So this sculpture to me is a little fearful thing, but it’s grand and cool, his last major work, and it is impossible for the East Wing to be the East Wing without this Alexander Calder in it; it is the museum’s signature piece of art and it belongs there like nothing else could, compelling you to draw your eyes upward as you sit there in this building that is itself a piece of art (thank you, Mr. Pei). And, you know, if Calder really was this joyous person maybe he did want to tempt people to grab on, swing free and not let go. (I’ll have to visit again soon.)
How interesting to know he wasn’t morose and moribund and all those things artists are supposed to be. How fitting that his work should be in the East Wing, because of how the building makes me feel when I visit it. Should I really be surprised to see him jumping to catch a ball on the beach?
No, not at all.
Photos © ACF