She’s 50 years old, stands over 12 feet tall, weighs nearly 2,500 pounds and has delighted and inspired imaginations all over the world.
In 1969, when Alexander Calder created his renowned Janey Waney, he was doing it for placement in a shopping mall on Long Island. Little did he know that, five decades later, it would have traveled from Gramercy Park in Manhattan to the European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht, Netherland, from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to Jardin Des Tuileries, on the grounds of the Louvre in Paris France, where it is currently on display for the FIAC International Contemporary Art Fair. Yet it has!
Alexander Calder, one of history’s greatest sculptors, was a magician in the realm of forms. He transmuted the most ordinary materials into marvelous ornaments, jewels, furniture, as well as into fabulous moving wind sculptures inhabited by tin-can birds, fishes, horses, paper elephants, and wooden giraffes. He was a larger-than-life figure, both engaging and disconcerting. Calder’s taste for adventure guided him all over the world and all through the twentieth century—an eternal wanderer and discoverer who was amused by everything he saw. He never forgot any of the places he visited nor the people he met and managed to assimilate to all without changing his way of living or his convictions.
Calder once wrote: “There’s no formula—but using your senses” and during his career, he integrated his senses—and his imagination—into the most immediate aspects of his process. He graduated with a degree in Mechanical engineering in 1919 from the Stevens Institute of Technology. The training that he received at Stevens would, in the end, serve him far better as an artist than as an engineer.
Despite his large body of work, Calder’s name has become synonymous with the mobile, a kinetic sculpture propelled by its own equilibrium. In the 1930s after visiting Piet Mondrian at his studio, he noticed a light shift over the colored cardboard rectangles Mondrian had tacked to his wall. Calder began considering how these shapes would look in motion. Mondrian did not approve of this Idea at all, but Calder started to develop colorful, oscillating structures made from configurations of metal parts, and thus his passion for mobile sculptures had begun. While the avant-garde artist may not have invented mobiles, the world has come to refer almost exclusively to his free-moving creations.
In the aftermath of WW II Calder launched his mobile investigation into new paths. His mobiles evolved into monumental shapes. In answer to requests from the many architects who sought him out, he had to submit maquettes. This led him to undertake a series of works of very small dimensions. He used to get a kick at making these maquettes as tiny as his hands could manage. Patrick Waldberg once said: “His mobiles occupy one’s mind without constraining it and guide one’s thoughts along blissful pathways.” Calder devoted himself extensively to these works, which he reserved for his friends, and they were seldom commercialized. When he moved to larger mobiles, he was concerned with being understood by the man in the street. His large mobiles suggest dreams reminiscent of games changed.
In 1969 Jane Holzer or “Baby Jane” a star of Andy Warhol’s films approached Calder for a commission, for the Smith Haven Mall that was being built in the Long Island village of Lake Grove. The developer was the N. K. Winston Corporation. Moreover, an executive there, Leonard Holzer, happened to be married to Jane Holzer. Jane Holzer prevailed upon her husband to set aside $350,000 in the mall’s budget to commission sculptures and paintings by eight artists, including Larry Rivers, Jim Dine, and Robert Grosvenor, and Alexander Calder amongst them.
The story goes that when Holzer visited Calder in his studio to commission the work the artist was insistent that it be a fountain. Unable to convince Calder otherwise, Holzer pointed to a table-top standing maquette and said that what she wanted was a piece just like that. “Janey Waney” named for Holzer and her frustration is a large-scale version of that very sculpture Jane Holzer pointed at in Calder’s studio in Paris.
When the “Smith Haven Mall” opened it was one of the nation’s biggest malls, and it was built on a 102-acre former potato patch in the eastern Long Island village, and the “Janey Waney” stood in center court.
Like one of Warhol’s happenings, however, the mall-as-museum concept didn’t last. It is unclear where or when the rest of Ms. Holzer’s commissions went, but the Calder was removed from the central pool in 1972, its moving parts packed away and soon lost. For years afterward, the base of the Calder sat outside in the parking lot, badly bent, its paint peeling. Like the mall itself, the Calder deteriorated until 1986, when a new owner finally got around to renovating the property. Then, at a black-tie gala marking the mall’s face-lift, a rebuilt Janey Waney was unveiled at the center of the Mall.