Charles Darwent at Literary Review:
Of the many descriptions of Alexander Calder in Jed Perl’s new biography of him, the most telling and unexpected is this: Calder was a ‘burly man with the soul of a nightingale’. The burliness comes as no surprise. Shut your eyes and think of Calder and you will very probably see him as he appears in Jean Painlevé’s 1955 film Le Grand Cirque Calder, plaid-shirted and growling in ostentatiously bad French. (If you haven’t seen Calder operating his toy circus, you should. You can find Painlevé’s film on YouTube.) Calder looks like an amiable lumberjack, or an oversized child: the circus, begun in 1927 when he was just short of thirty and living in Paris, could as easily have been a vieux garçon’s train set. No, it is the second part of the description, of Calder as a soulful nightingale, that pulls one up short – the more so on finding that the words were written by Joan Miró.
Miró’s description suggests the need for a good biography of Calder. During his life, Calder was the victim of mistaken identity. To an extent he remains one forty years later. Despite thoughtful recent exhibitions of his work, such as those at Pace in London in 2013 and at the Tate in 2015, the amiable lumberjack and his art have somehow come to be confused with each other. Where Miró is witty, Calder is merely humorous; if the Spaniard’s work paints him as the master of uncanny opposition, the American’s shows him to be a tinkerer – a merry fellow, whose swaying mobiles could be hung over the cribs of Brobdingnagian infants.