Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Secret Stunt Doubles of the Art World


To create an exhibition of large-scale sculptures of Alexander Calder, Moma created a set of elaborate stand-ins.

When film and TV crews need to install cameras, or adjust lighting and sound equipment, actors’ stand-ins – people of similar size and shape – are often patiently asked to take their place . And when a script calls for a character to do something dangerous, the star usually steps aside while a stunt takes a double punch.

In museums, mosquitoes are both stand-ins and stunt doubles. In exhibition planning, original artifacts sit securely in packing boxes, or hung elsewhere, while models of them are moved here and yon with relatively little care so that curators and designers can display their layouts in a gallery. To determine.

The seven arenas were built for “Alexander Calder: Modern from the Start”, which opens on Sunday at the Museum of Modern Art. And they are the most elaborate that the museum has built. Typically, mock-up artifacts are footprints or pieces of brown paper of a silhouette made of wood or cardboard. Many are produced by art handlers, carpenters and patrons.

But it is an exhibition with Calder sculptures, many of which feature large-scale works of intricate design. Some of these, and a pair of their younger cousins, required more elaborate treatment to prepare.

One of the first to be built was a stand-in for the “Black Widow”, a 1959 sculpture that is often seen in Moma’s sculpture garden (most recent since 2019). While members of the museum’s team who were focusing on exhibition design and production were studying the measurements of that piece, they worried that it might be difficult to carry it safely to the gallery on the third floor. He began his transportation test by creating flat footprint models, before realizing that he needed to build a full-scale double.

“We need to know what size that piece is,” said Jason Fry, the head of the museum.

No matter how elaborate they are, maquettes are not breeding. Nor was it his intention. “I think it’s distracting to create exact replicas,” said Loma Hum, MoMA’s director of exhibition design and production. Good models, he said, are trying to arouse the “really salient features, sculptural qualities” of the original pieces. Their usefulness stems from their simplicity.

That is why, when some carpenters suggested that they paint maize to match the curator of their modern twin, “Modern from the Start”, they requested that they leave the wood exposed. In great detail, she said, it may be difficult for her to “take the first important step towards understanding these objects as volumes in space,” a work between working with virtual models and maneuvering with real Calder figurines. intermediate stage.

The amount of labor that went into planning for the exhibition was a surprise to Alexander S.C. Rover, Calder’s grandson and president of the Calder Foundation, which gave the show 14 pieces.

“It’s always been a challenge for museums to understand how Calder works,” he said.

Calder’s mobiles, whose classes are eccentric, are particularly difficult to estimate. “I’ve never encountered a museum before that makes large-scale complete cutouts for the actual gallery, where the sculptures are going to go,” the mower said. “I think it’s amazing.”

In order to recreate Calder’s works, we and his exhibition design and production staff, led by Math Cox, had to start almost from scratch. Those measurements would have been sufficient to make large-scale models, simple material representations of basic dimensions. But for accurate stand-in, they required more detailed information about the context, density, and distribution of design specifics of the pieces.

This was easier than the loan already at work in Moma’s collection. For sculptures already in the home, photographs and measurements of the shapes of their components can be taken in person and compared against each other before being imported into a computer-aided design program, where they are discovered in three-dimensional models Gone and rediscovered. The remaining pieces were worked on using secondhand photographs and some educated guesses about how much the images distorted the original.

Once each sculpture was provided digitally, its individual components were printed on paper and made into stencils. Using a saw, band saw, and a scroll saw, the carpenter then cut those shapes out of plywood, medium-density fiberboard, and masonite.

The assembly proved to be no less complicated. The sculptures of Calder joined at subtle angles, and those that disappeared would have distorted the shape of the model. Carpenter also found that not all works can be easily translated from metal to wood. For example, the wavy piece at the heart of “Devil Fish”, a work from 1937, could not be replicated with the rigid material they were using for other sculptures. Italian poplar plywood, which is thinner and comparatively flexible, was used instead.

Even more difficult to copy was “Snow Flurry, I” (1948), a mobile whose beauty stems from its precise and graceful pace. It took Carpenter John Wood four days of intense work, as the third and final part of the mobile with a flick, piano strings and cardboard to create a model that could spin the same as Calder’s original. “I made this one first and made it really accurate and everything,” Wood said. “And then when I hung it, it was very wild, and the weight was not right.”

Wood could use a strip of masonite and glue to compensate for the imbalance, but this reduced the accuracy of the maquette. Rather, he chose to take another day to reorder the model until it had gone through a minimum distance for the real sculpture.

Craig Anderson, another carpenter who worked on the project, said that such an exercise changed his relationship with Calder’s work – notably “Black Widow”. “I walked by it every day, and I really didn’t give it much thought,” he said. “Now this is a whole other piece for me as I have studied it and made each part and tried to figure out how he put it together.”

The Calder exhibition was a relatively rare opportunity for members of the carpentry team to flex their creative muscles.

“We make a lot of walls and paddles and platforms in all these squares and rectangles,” Wood said. “So when we get a little bit stretched and have to do something like that, even if we’re somehow stopping someone, it’s good.”

Produced by Tala Safi and Jessie Vander.

Surfacing There is a column that explores the intersection of art and life, created by Alicia Desantis, Jolie Reuben, Tala Safi and Josephine Sedwick.

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