Room Five

In addition to works with a free motion, Calder experimented with sculptures controlled by a small motor, effectively embodying the mechanical processes that were an implied subject in many cubist and futurist paintings. He was attracted to the idea of being able to precisely guide the resulting movements. ‘With a mechanical drive, you can control the thing like the choreography in a ballet’, he said in 1937.

When these works were exhibited, critics were charmed by their handmade mechanical devices, but also drew attention to their performative qualities, describing their ‘quasi-astral dance’. However, the motorised elements were always at risk of breaking down, and they are now too fragile to be operated. More fundamentally, Calder recognised that the ability to control movement was perhaps less fertile than the potentially infinite possibilities that opened up with free movement.

Black Frame recalls Calder’s designs for Virgil Thomson’s 1936 production of Socrate by Erik Satie. With two singers taking fixed positions at either side of the stage, Calder’s coloured geometric forms performed a series of carefully choreographed movements to accompany the sombre composition.