June 20, 2006

Alexander Calder's Circus Film On YouTube

Fellow dadblogger sweetjuniper just posted the 18-minute version of Calder's Circus on YouTube. It was made in 1961 by Carlos Vilardebo, and it's been shown widely around the world--and in the lobby of the Whitney Museum--ever since. Since the Circus's actual figures are now too fragile to leave the Whitney, the film usually serves as a proxy, providing a window into this crucial, early body of Calder's work.

Calder's fascination with movement and working with wire led him first to create wire sculpture 'portraits,' and later informed his creation of mobiles. But the popularity of le Cirque Calder in 1920's and 1930's Paris helped Calder form relationships with artists like Miro and Mondrian who were themselves extremely influential on Calder's work.

Live performances lasted up to two hours and included twenty or more acts and an intermission. [The Calder Foundation's website rather irrelevantly points out that Circus performances predate so-called "performance art" by several decades. The work is important enough not to try to stretch it so far beyond its obvious theatrical and puppet show precedents.]

A note about distribution-uber-alles, the Vilardebo film is at least the second filmed version of the Calder Circus. In 1953, the pioneering science filmmaker Jean Painlevé made Cirque de Calder, which exists in both 40- and 60-minute versions. But it's Vilardebo's later film--and the shorter version of it--which has gained the biggest audience.

If anyone know more about Painlevé's version, or about the story behind the making of Vilardebo's film--which, after all, was shot much later, when the artist is an older man, and when the Circus had grown too large to be transported in a trunk back and forth between New York and Paris--please drop me a line.

MoMA curator James Sweeney's exhibition catalogue essay on Calder from 1951 gives an excellent explanation of the Circus in the context of Calder's career.]

Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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first published: June 20, 2006.

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