In his letter responding to an invite from the estimable Sarabhai family to stay with them in Ahmedabad, Alexander Calder wrote “It is very cold here, and so we will be delighted to come where it is warmer, but the great delight is to see India, and to meet you and your family. Cordially Sandy.”
Kamalini, Gautam and Gira Sarabhai had previously hosted the significant likes of Le Corbusier, John Cage, Charles Eames, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Rauschenberg in their compound and, upon being promised space to work and the disposal of a local blacksmith, Calder and his wife accepted the invitation announcing, we are told, that he would be bringing just his pliers.
Calder in India is the cumulative effort of over a decade by Pilar Ordovas to bring together the works that the artist created during his time in India – a collection that has not been exhibited for over 50 years and never in the West – and is now on show at London’s Ordovas gallery.
Displayed are ten mobiles of varying scale, all but two of which were made during his stay with the Sarabhais. The anomalies being Six Moons over a Mountain which “Sandy” had sent over beforehand – like a calling card – and a piece known as Blue Dot that the family purchased before his trip. The significance of all this lies in the story of the works’ creation and the similitude of free artistic output that occurred in this one decidedly un-“west” location by creatives of such influential consequence.
Calder’s three-week trip produced exemplary work in his oeuvre that may/may not have assimilated the landscape into his unique mobile language, but his situation is reflected in some titles such as Sumac 17, 1955 and Guava, 1955 and especially Happy Family, 1955.
Walking into a void-like space of a gallery is not always relieved by strategically placed busy rectangles but with Calder’s pieces, as familiar as they are, their presence is totally space-filling-ly extraordinary. Though there is no sense of scale when viewed on screen – pieces in the show span between a few centimetres and three meters at least – the delicacy of the work, however, remains constant no matter the size.
Experiencing them in the flesh presents an opportunity to rotate about them and in doing so you disturb the air and cause them to near quiver with your presence. It’s this potential for movement that is particularly effecting and does strange things to your spatial awareness as you imagine their immobility to be held in some sort of contiguous bind with your own position in the room.
This might be the last time this particular collection will appear together on this side of the world and so the gallery have produced a very nice looking catalogue that speaks in great anecdotal detail of the Calder’s time in Ahmedabad as well as contextualising their stay with the other artists who ventured over.
A rare wonder of an exhibition, now showing until August 3.