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Calder Jewelry

Start Date 12 July 2008
End Date 02 November 2008
Venue Philadelphia Museum of Art
Location Philadelphia, USA
Curator Elisabeth Agro

Recognized as one of America’s most innovative modern artists, Alexander Calder (1898–1976) redefined sculpture through his iconic mobiles, stabiles, and the popular Cirque Calder. Calder’s work in metal jewelry, however, is one form of his artistic output that is less known. Throughout his life, the artist produced more than 1,800 jewelry works of art, each made entirely by hand. This is the first exhibition devoted exclusively to his unique body of jewelry work, and consists of approximately one hundred objects, including necklaces, bracelets, brooches, earrings, and tiaras. 

Calder’s love of abstraction was incorporated into all of his sculptural work, and his jewelry was no exception—it is this abstraction that sets the jewelry apart. Several pieces, when worn, cause the wearer and the jewelry to become conjoined. In other instances, the mere act of wearing the jewelry initiates a performance, sometimes caused by the pure fantasy of the jewelry itself or the activation of a necklace or earrings by the wearer’s movement, as if the jewelry were a mobile for the body. Calder’s largest and unwieldy pieces might best be described as “unwearable jewelry.” His jewelry has the same linear yet three-dimensional aspect as his mobiles, and the parts that compose each piece are hammered, shaped, chiseled, and composed in a fashion that precisely echoes the artist’s creation of his sculpture. 

Calder created personalized pieces of jewelry for family, friends, and acquaintances by implementing monogram or shaping names into decorative patterns. He also displayed and sold his jewelry through trunk shows and gallery exhibits. His well-designed jewelry, made of nonprecious materials, was reasonably priced; however, Calder’s distinctive jewelry was not conventional adornment for the average woman. 


This exhibition is co-organized by the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida, and the Calder Foundation, New York. 


Elisabeth Agro • Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Decorative Art 


Exhibition Gallery, first floor, Perelman Building