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HIGH-WIRE ACT: ALEXANDER CALDER IN PARIS, 1926–1933

André Kertész, Portrait of Alexander Calder with the Circus, 1929, black-and-white photograph, 7 1⁄8 x 9 1⁄2".

IT’S DIFFICULT TO KNOW WHAT TO MAKE OF ALEXANDER CALDER. He is solidly positioned within the pantheon of twentieth-century sculpture but doesn’t quite fit the conventional academic narrative that runs from Picasso’s Guitar through David Smith to Minimalism and beyond. He is arguably one of the most beloved and readily identifiable artists of his time, but it can be tough to take him completely seriously. Even if he’s given a free pass for painting Braniff airplanes (a commercial undertaking that seems almost prescient in light of the until very recently expanding appetite for spectacle in the art world), his work still has a tendency to slip into the reference frame of decoration. It can seem slight. And even though Calder’s sculptures are staples of public art, relatively little thought is given to their genesis. This is a shame, because for better or for worse there is really

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