December 20, 2008

Finding Your Inner Child at Christmas!

If the holiday spirit seems to be escaping you this season, I have a couple of suggestions guaranteed to delight even the most determined Scrooge!

Instead of grousing about the weather, why not make the best of it and go outside! Yesterday's winter storm turned Central Park into a Winter Wonderland and children of all ages were playing in the snow. It always amazes me how families living in cramped New York City apartments manage to store all manner of sleds and skis to be pulled out at the first sign of flakes. Every hillock was alive with toboggans, "flying saucers", and even cookie sheets transformed into magical sleighs. Shrieks of delight came from old and young as they whizzed across the frozen earth and landed in a poof of powder! Just walking along the frozen pathways lined with snow laden trees is a beautiful reminder of the glory of nature, the eternal changing of the seasons and how lucky we are in so many ways.

If you don't feel like bundling up, here's another suggestion! Hail a taxi and go over to the Whitney Museum of American Art on Madison Avenue at 75th Street. Now showing on the 4th floor is a marvelous exhibition "Alexander Calder - The Paris Years 1926-1933". Of course, Calder is a serious and very respected artist, but his early works, and to some degree his later ones, are infused with a joy and imagination that can only be referred to as "childlike". This exhibition focus' on the 7 years he spent in Paris, years that had a profound influence on his art and the period in which he created some of his most magical work.

When Alexander "Sandy" Calder (1898-1976) arrived in Paris, he did so with the express intention of becoming a painter. Instead, he soon traded two dimensions for three and instead of paint or pencil, he worked in wire creating amusing caricatures of friends and popular personalities and animals of all kinds. His fascination with the circus, an obsession of many artists over time (think Seurat, Chagall and Picasso), was ultimately expressed with his collection of miniature figures that he manipulated in performances for friends and paying customers. His "Circus" became a proto "Performance Art" that appealed to the Modernists' love of play and spectacle and fascination with fun mixed with death and danger (what happens if the knife thrower misses?). Calder's admirers included Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger and Joan Miró, but it was a visit to the studio of Piet Mondrian in 1930 that abruptly and completely changed his art.

From the fantasy of wire beasts and figures to the abstraction of solidly colored metal and wood sculptures that moved, either on their own or with the help of a crank or motor, the evolution was dramatic and permanent. Calder's new work fell, for the most part, into two categories - "Mobiles", constructions that were suspended and moved, and "Stabiles", similar in feel but stationary. These kinetic sculptures explored the ideas of balance, flight and movement in a whole new way and became the basis for the rest of Calder's career.

It is impossible to visit this exhibition without smiling! Early videos show the artist performing his "Circus" with a flair and sense of humor that is contagious. This sense of joy and anticipation is carried through to the last gallery where "Percussive Instrument" consisting of a suspended lead ball and smaller sphere swing around randomly striking objects in their paths and making "music". It is fabulous.

So forget that you haven't written your Christmas cards or your cranky Aunt is coming for the holidays - do yourself a favor and give in to the wonder of the season by releasing your inner child!

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