03/15/2013 06:06 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Objects in Space: Léger, Miró, Calder

Hammer Galleries presents this 4th year in a row another exciting exhibition at TEFAF Maastricht entitled 'Objects in Space: Léger, Miró, Calder', featuring over fifteen paintings and five mobiles ranging from 1926-1976.  The exhibition will be on view at the Hammer Galleries booth from March 14-25. A virtual tour of the exhibition is also available on the Gallery’s site.

This exhibition explores how these three innovative artists explored the concept of “motion” in art and struggled with the issue of how to describe “objects in space” through their work. Taking its title from Léger painting, Objets dans l’espace, the exhibition examines some of the parallel artistic representations of this topic that these artists shared while working in Paris during the 1920s-1930s and throughout their careers.

Léger and Miró both attempted to give their objects a sense of “implied motion” on their two dimensional space of their canvases. Calder explored dimensions through plastic objects and inventing an entirely new art form known as the “mobile”

Fernand LÉGER  (French, 1881 - 1955)

Objets dans l'espace, 1931

Oil on canvas, 28 3/4 x 36 1/4 inches

© 2013 Artists Right Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
MutualArt spoke to Howard Shaw, President and Director of the Hammer Galleries in New York who is also curating the exhibition. “Fairs are so big these days”, said Shaw, “When I visit fairs it starting to become a bit of a blur after some time.” So he decided to take on a different approach and do little curated shows instead. In 2011, the Hammer Galleries presented at Maastricht their critically acclaimed Renoir exhibition of only twenty paintings which was a major success. This year’s exhibition also includes a small number of works.

When asked what he hopes people take away from the exhibition, Shaw replied: “I hope people get a little deeper understanding of how artists are looking at one another and how they are struggling with the same artistic  issues at the same time, but still managing to create unique works of art. “

However, Shaw’s major aspiration is to expose people to Calder and his works. “Nothing is as astonishing as standing in front of a Calder and watch it move," he said. Shaw became interested with Calder after watching a lecture by Jed Perl at the National Academy of Art, entitled “Becoming Calder: Shaping the man who invented the mobile”. In his lecture, Perl discussed “the mystery” of Calder’s astonishingly rapid early development as an innovative abstract artist in Paris in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Perl solved this mystery by correcting a common misunderstanding about Calder’s parents, who were not, as many think, conservative, academic artists, but modern artists, committed to a new kind of vision. Perl argued that it was their influence and the influence of their avant-garde fellow artists and friends who pushed Calder to make his artistic leap. Calder was an engineer originally, so he had the skills set but he needed to come to Paris to complete this leap.

Piet MONDRIAN (Dutch, 1872 - 1944)

Komposition II, with Red, 1926

© 2013 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International USA

In Paris, Calder met both Mondrian and Léger through the increasingly popular performances of his 'Cirque Calder' and sought out a meeting with Miró. A visit to the studio of Mondrian in 1930 would cause his abrupt conversion to abstraction. Later, he would add both Léger and Miró as important influences to his dramatic shift, stating:”My first abstract things grew out of meeting Mondrian, Léger, Miró.”

Calder developed an immediate rapport with Léger and they became good friends. They both used similar language and terminology which reflected their concern with similar aesthetic ideas and problems. Léger experimented with the concept of “objects in space” and said: “I felt I could not place an object on a table without diminishing its value. I selected an object, chucked the table away. I put the object in space, minus perspective.”

Calder also had a close friendship with Joan Miró. For five decades they visited each other, corresponded frequently, exhibited together and worked on important projects such as the Spanish Pavilion at the World’s Fair of 1937. Miró also explored some of the same issues as Calder. “What I am looking for, in fact, is an immobile movement, something which would be the equivalent of what is called the eloquence of silence, or what St. John of the Cross, I think it was, described with the term 'mute music'," he once said.

Joan MIRÓ (Spanish, 1893 - 1983)

Oiseaux dans l'espace, 1959

Oil on canvas, 51 1/8 x 31 7/8 inches

© 2013 Successió Miró / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Asked about the Calder market, Shaw reports that it has been very strong. “Lily of Force” - one of the first sculptures the artist designed back in 1945 - a big, standing mobile, roughly 8 feet tall, set a world record for the artist and sold for $18.6 million at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in 2012.  Another Calder mobile, “Snow Flurry” fetched $10.4 million.

“Léger, Miró and Calder all shared a desire to create a performance of “objects in space,” concludes Shaw. “For all three artists, this interest involved not only painting and sculpture, but also the “preformative spaces” of the theatrical or cinematic stages, always ultimately in an attempt to understand the essential nature of the world. Their works were radically innovative during their time and they remain powerful and relevant today.”