Alexander Calder at Hauser & Wirth, Somerset

The Alexander Calder exhibition at Hauser & Wirth Somerset has been open for just a month, and this week we happened to be in Somerset so popped by for the afternoon. 

The majority of the works here have never before been exhibited in the UK. Calder was one of the most influential and pioneering artists of the twentieth century, transforming the very nature of sculpture by introducing the fourth dimension and the actuality of real-time experience into his work. Known primarily for his invention of the mobile, Calder created a prolific oeuvre that extended to wire sculpture, carved figures, stabiles, standing mobiles, oil paintings, works on paper, jewellery, furniture and domestic objects, and monumental public commissions across the globe.

In this free of charge exhibition ‘From the Stony River to the Sky’ runs through all five gallery spaces with almost 100 pieces, including large-scale outdoor works set within the gardens.

The exhibition takes its title from the etymology of the surname Calder in Celtic—meaning ‘from the stony river’, and its inspiration from Calder’s long-time home and studio in Roxbury, Connecticut. 

In 1934, the expanse of his Roxbury hills home inspired Calder to make outdoor sculptures, among the first of which is exhibited here inside the galleries: ‘Red, White, Black and Brass’.

Also on view are two important surrealist works from 1938: ‘Apple Monster’, made from a fallen branch of an ancient apple tree on the property, and an untitled sister sculpture, which features a found cow vertebra and spheres perched atop wires, expressing a range of vibratory qualities.

Occupying two galleries within the exhibition is a selection of the artist’s handcrafted domestic objects borrowed from the Calders’ Roxbury home, including a chess set, chairs, a coffee table, and a lamp, among a multitude of other ingenious yet functional devices.

This is the first time many of these objects have ever been on public view. A selection of his wife’s jewellery is also shown, highlighting a body of work that Calder largely created to gift to his family and close friends.

Among the most recognisable of the artist’s works in the exhibition are the mobiles, stabiles, and standing mobiles, as well as oil paintings from the 1940s and 1950s. The presentation culminates with several large scale works installed indoors.

Alexander S. C. Rower, Calder Foundation president and grandson of the artist, explains,

‘Roxbury had a direct impact on my grandfather’s work. He owned 18 acres and was inspired to bring sculpting outdoors for the first time. My grandparents thrived in the fresh air and lived close to the land. They also found relief from the rising fascism in Europe, and before long, they were directly assisting their artist friends to escape to the United States and to rural Connecticut in particular. In this way, they rebuilt their rich bohemian community that was a constant facet of their life, thereby making Roxbury home.’

 

Piet Oudolf, the internationally-renowned landscape designer from the Netherlands, designed the landscaping scheme for the entire site at Hauser & Wirth, including Oudolf Field, the large perennial meadow behind the gallery buildings where Calder’s large scale sculptures are on display.

Carefully shaped and planted, the garden echoes the tradition of classical gardens, but the variety of species and combination of plants creates an informal garden. Known for his use of plants with spectacular seed heads, Oudolf has created a garden that has interest year round.

At the top of Oudolf Field sits the Radić Pavilion, designed by Chilean architect Smiljan Radić, it was installed at Hauser & Wirth Somerset in March 2015, following it’s unveiling the previous year as the Serpentine Gallery 2014 Pavilion.

You can catch the train from London arriving at Castle Cary train station, where you’re only a 15 minute taxi ride from the site.

Hauser & Wirth is free to visit

 Hauser & Wirth, Durslade Farm, Dropping Lane, Bruton, Somerset BA10 0NL

Nicky’s World June 2018