Los Angeles

Alexander Calder

Long Beach Museum of Art

Alexander Calder’s recent gouaches could be a) so bad they’re good, or b) so bad they’re bad. At any rate, there is a strange, convincing meatiness about the exhibition which, by comparison, makes most La Cienega shows look browbeaten into slickness, The exhibition shows a major artist doing minor, recreational, out-of-medium works; it exudes eccentricity: Calder obviously believes himself a “master” with a “touch” which will transform minimal manual labor into real art, and he has, over the past several years, ripped off a bunch of awkward, sharp, raw paintings in bright colors (primaries and secondaries) on expensive paper to prove it. They are relatively big as gouaches go and display, in an eclectic Miró-Leger style reminiscent of Calder’s own “circus” period, some tiny bits of chutzpah; the best ones, like Bust of Boy, use red for all its clarity and purposely approach outright awfulness (Paul Klee re-done with a hammer), and the worst ones are conspicuously perfunctory and systematized. The big danger, of course, with lending the unspoken authority of a public museum to “off” works by a big name like Calder is that, to the general public, this is definitive modern art—“creative,” “free,” and “expressive.”

––Peter Plagens