The Many Layers of Alexander Calder’s Man-Eater with Pennants
Conservators discuss the transformation of the artist’s imposing sculpture.
Cara Manes, Megan Randall, Lynda Zycherman
Apr 2, 2021
The In Detail series brings together curators and conservators to take a close look at an artwork, exploring specific details about its making and meaning that might otherwise be hidden to us.
Alexander Calder. Mobile with 14 Flags (Model for Man-Eater with Pennants). 1945
CM: Maquette-making was a vital part of Calder’s practice because scale, for him, was a very complex subject. Sometimes, he’d make a tabletop-size sculpture with the intention specifically of scaling it up right away, so in those instances the tabletop-size work serves as a maquette for a larger-size sculpture. Other times, works existed in small scale for decades and then, ultimately, were enlarged. And sometimes they were never scaled up.
In the case of Man-Eater, the maquette was created specifically with the idea that the work would be made at a larger scale right away for the garden. In that sense it can be a guide, yet we also noticed very clear differences, maybe most strikingly in the precise paint colors and in the fact that in the final sculpture, some of the upper metal elements are perforated, whereas they are not in the maquette. I’m curious, as conservators, how do you reckon with a maquette? How useful was it as a guide?
MR: The perforations do differ between the maquette and Man-Eater. The bottom pennants on the maquette spin, and the ones on Man-Eater are fixed, which was an interesting discovery when we pulled it out of storage. I think the main thing in looking at it is just seeing the overall position of the components. The thickness of the bars is very different because there’s different structural considerations for the scale of Man-Eater over the maquette, but the straightness of the elements was really important to see and discuss in order to understand how bent some of the rods had become.
Slight bending in one of the shapes from Man-Eater with Pennants. Photo: Abigail Mack
This particular sculpture is an outlier in that it is visually different from many other works that Calder ever made.
A number of paint coupons used in color selection. Photo: Abigail Mack
Sculpture elements hang in the “spray booth” at Monumenta Art Conservation. Photo: Abigail Mack
Man-Eater with Pennants installed in MoMA’s Sculpture Garden, 2021. Photo: Lynda Zycherman
Conservation of Man-Eater with Pennants was made possible by the Bank of America Art Conservation Project.
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