Confronting the work of the artist who, with his sculptures, defined emptiness and time, teaches how to give body and matter to concepts such as lightness and movement

"It's something serious even though it doesn't give the impression of being so." This is how Fernand Léger described Calder's work on the occasion of the Parisian exhibition in 1931.

On display there were sculptures without weight or mass, made of iron wires to join small suspended material objects. On display, in fact, there were sculptures that defined the void. Indeed, they defined themselves through the void, using territories that sculpture had never conquered until then.

Because in addition to space, Calder's works also contend with time: they are kinetic sculptures and their movement inevitably marks continuous differences between a before and an after.

Not only that: the mobiles, as he called these sculptures Marcel Duchamp, move according to the environmental characteristics they encounter, making them, precisely , always different. Light, wind, air, temperature are the ingredients that make Calder's sculptures vibrate, those inventions that can give shape to the air, those ferrous organisms, capable of breathing.

The Masi - Museum of Art of Italian Switzerland - in Lugano hosts Calder. Sculpting Time, the exhibition curated by Carmen Giménez and Ana Mingot Comenge dedicated to the period in which Calder abandons the figurative to experiment with dimension > abstract.

30 masterpieces for approximately 30 years of career, from 1931 to 1960, tell how to give materiality to a precise idea of ​​lightness and movement: «Just as colors or shapes can be composed, in the same way the movements can be composed", he wrote in 1933.

And if the shift towards abstractism owes it, as he himself says, to Piet Mondrian, then his work certainly becomes autonomous: it is not painting, but sculpture that becomes abstract and universe (or a portion of it) to become the source of all form. This research is being discussed at Masi, thanks also to an important collaboration with the Calder Foundation which, together with other important institutions and private collections, has made a truly sensational selection of pieces available.

The first room hosts a hybrid, a painting with sculpture, we could say, from 1937, without title. But it is Croisière who holds the scene, perhaps because that was the sculpture that struck everyone's sensibilities in Paris in 1931: the abstract sculpture, without body or weight, it occupied the air... and it does so even now, in the Lugano museum. Next to it, Big Bird, a heavy, material and well anchored to the ground, bird made of iron and bolts, painted in red and black. While in the center there is Cône d'ébène, metal wire and wood.

Marking the entrance to the second room is another masterpiece, Eucalyptus, a light, leafy branch that makes you think of summer light filtering through the leaves, or of an organism that knows how to shape the air itself , or perhaps an idea that can show itself - over time - in all its most diverse nuances and facets.

The 1940 work is in excellent company. On the walls there are several examples of his Constellations, together, among other works, with Yucca (1941), a kind of imaginative and poetic iron flower in painted metal plate (and normally hosted at the Guggenheim in New York); Aspen (1948), a portion of a field of flowers suspended in the air, to also see their roots.

And then Triple gong, a brilliant representation of rhythm in music, but also of the sound waves that propagate from (come on?) Gong... to conclude with the last two works, seen lake: the room opens onto the water and mountains with Black Mushrooms (1957) and Red Lily Pads (1956): air and earth? Too easy, surely. It is, as Léger said, a serious matter, even though it doesn't seem like it!

And the staging does justice to this dual nature, serious and facetious, of Mr Calder. Of course, the first problem is to protect the works, so light and fragile, from any careless or distracted visitors, who could easily bump into them or make them shake unduly in the space by blowing against the metallic petals that compose them.

But there is also the problem of how to narrate these ideas in ferrous form, these weightless metal plates, capable of moving and changing every minute of the day. Large white round surfaces form the basis of the work, lit from above. And the solution is perfect: it imposes a safe distance on the visitor, illuminates the sculpture with its reflective white from the floor and welcomes the pattern of the shadows.

So that you will see in black and white a shape drawn by the sculpture, its wandering in the circle (to get out of it, too) in movement and becoming more intense at the end of the day, when the light coming from the window overlooking the lake becomes lower. That's all. An essential and very effective setup, with great attention to the lights, perfectly in tune with the essentiality of the works on display. Which are in turn the essence of Calder's artistic production.

Calder. Sculpting Time, until 6 October 2024. MASI Lugano, Piazza Bernardino Luini 6, open from Tuesday to Friday 11am - 6pm, Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 6pm; on Thursdays until 10pm.