Alexander Calder

National Gallery of Art

For years a forced dose of Alexander Calder’s Circus, 1926–31, every time I passed through the lobby of the Whitney reduced his art to irredeemable kitsch. Of course, beauty and kitsch are by no means mutually exclusive; in fact, the “in” where my renewed appreciation of Calder’s work is concerned came via an unexpected route: Mark Robson’s 1967 movie version of Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls. Camp queens have always thrilled to the sequence in which the Ethel Merman–esque Helen Lawson character, played by Susan Hayward, wows the audience of a New Haven theater with a show-stopping, razzle-dazzle anthem of personal autonomy performed in the psychedelic shadows of a whirling, Calderian mobile. Special lighting effects gave the whole ensemble the aesthetic charge of disco illumination avant la lettre. “I’ll plant my own tree, and I’ll make it grow,” Lawson belts out, and one realizes

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