In recent years, the Denver Botanic Gardens has been popping up on the art world’s radar with ambitious exhibits, presented outdoors on the 23 acres of grounds as well as indoors in the Boettcher Memorial Center. Although some of these have been group shows, most have been solos, with displays dedicated to Deborah Butterfield, Dale Chihuly and the late Henry Moore, among others. This summer, Alexander Calder gets the star treatment, in Calder Monumental, which was curated by Alfred Pacquement, a Paris-based Calder expert. Calder, who invented the mobile, was a giant in the history of kinetic sculpture. His career stretched from the 1920s, when he studied in Paris, to 1976, when he died suddenly at age 78. Calder came of age alongside the likes of Duchamp and Léger, and he became so famous that, like those other artists, he’s typically only referred to by his last name.
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While the DBG show touches on the early part of Calder’s career through a film of his famous miniature mechanized wire sculptures depicting a circus, the exhibit is mostly about the later phase of his work, from the ’50s to the ’70s. From the start, Calder created both kinetic and stable works, which he called mobiles and stabiles, respectively. The show includes just one signature mobile, “Snow Flurry, May 14,” from 1959, which is hanging inside the Boettcher Center. The piece is suspended from the ceiling with horizontally oriented rods gathered at the center; mounted on the ends of the rods are flat metal sheets that have been cut into organic shapes, and the whole piece slowly moves. In addition to this mobile, there are two kinetic pieces that are hybrids of mobiles and stabiles: “6 Dots Over a Mountain,” from 1956, and 1964’s “Five Rudders,” both displayed near water features, no doubt so that their moving parts won’t hit DBG visitors — and vice versa. In these pieces, roughly triangular bases are surmounted by metal armatures adorned at the ends with painted metal shapes.
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Most of the show comprises stabiles. Unlike the kinetic pieces, some of the stabiles don’t even look like Calders, but they definitely are. Some have figurative elements — which, though rare in the artist’s later work, was something he was known for early on. The oddest of the bunch is the untitled standing figure done the year that Calder died, which looks like a three-dimensional child’s drawing of a woman.
Even without the Calder sculptures, the DBG is worth a visit, but with this show, it’s a must. Calder Monumental runs through September 24 at the Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York Street; call 720-865-3501 or go to botanicgardens.org for additional information.