Interview with Alexander S. C. Rower, Calder Prize, Pace Gallery, London

Pace London is currently hosting The Calder Prize 2005–2015, an exhibition exploring the enduring impact of Alexander Calder through the work of six contemporary artists, the laureates of the Calder Prize to date: Tara Donovan (2005), Žilvinas Kempinas (2007), Tomás Saraceno (2009), Rachel Harrison (2011), Darren Bader (2013), and Haroon Mirza (2015). The exhibition coincides with Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture at Tate Modern. Calder’s unorthodox approach to materials is a unifying thread among the artists, evoked in the work of the inaugural Calder Prize laureate Tara Donovan. The biannual award in the amount of $50,000, which was inaugurated by the Calder Foundation in 2005, honours artists who have made exemplary work early in their careers that can be interpreted as a continuation of Calder’s legacy. Though the six laureates work in different media, they share a passion for Calder’s innovative spirit to envision new directions for sculpture. Their work hereby re-contextualises the scale of Calder’s influence far beyond his lifetime. We interview President of the Alexander Calder Foundation, Alexander S. C. Rower, about the award and exhibition.

A: Could you please discuss the reasons behind the final selection of contemporary artists, and what you look for in an entrant?
AR: In selecting our laureates, we look for artists whose work can be interpreted as having resonated with Calder’s legacy—but still in their own vocabulary. The connection may be as conceptual as the transformation of our perception of space, or a more specific usage of industrial and/or recycled materials, or sound as an enveloping force. These concepts can be identified in the works on view in the exhibition.

A: What was the motivation behind the creation of the Calder Prize?
AR: There were two main motivations: first and foremost, to support excellence in contemporary artistic practice; and second, to honour my grandfather’s legacy and raise awareness of his lasting impact on contemporary art.

A: Which of Calder’s works do you feel have been most influential to his legacy?
AR: One of Calder’s most radical works is not surprisingly one that has been extremely influential. It’s entitled Small Sphere and Heavy Sphere, 1932/33, and it is currently on view at Tate Modern. Calder’s very first hanging mobile, the work is comprised of a collection of impedimenta, recycled objects arranged on the floor, including empty glass bottles, a tin can, a wooden box, and a fabricated metal gong, which are variously struck by a small wooden sphere that is propelled by a heavy iron sphere set into motion by the viewer. Calder also leaves the arrangement of the impedimenta up to the viewer, resulting in an avant-garde sound composition that evokes sensations of anticipation, satisfaction, even disappointment. It combines so many of the themes in Calder’s work, but it also heralds ideas that remain of great interest in contemporary art nearly a century later.

A: The exhibition corresponds with Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture at Tate Modern. Has there been any collaboration between Tate and The Calder Foundation on the most recent Prize as a result?
AR: Although we selected our most recent laureate independently of the Tate, it came as a great surprise to learn that the concurrent exhibition on view in Turbine Hall during Calder: Performing Sculpture was dedicated to Abraham Cruzvillegas, a very talented Mexican artist who we invited to do a residency at the Atelier Calder in 2005. It is always very gratifying to see what our artist residents go on to do.

The Calder Prize 2005–2015, until 5 March, Pace Gallery, 6 Burlington Gardens, London W1S 3ET.

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1. Installation view of The Calder Prize 2005–2015, 2016. Courtesy of Pace London.