The other day we received a press release. It said, “The Circus rolls into town again!” Naturally, we were excited, not because we are particularly fond of circuses, but because we knew, since this press release came from someone at the Whitney Museum, that it had to be about none other than Alexander Calder’s artwork The Circus.
New York has a handful of signature artworks—think Picasso’s Demoiselles at the Museum of Modern Art, Bellini’s St. Francis at the Frick—and this is one of them. In the late 1920s, Calder, the sculptor better known for his soaring mobiles, created a miniature circus out of seemingly whatever was on hand, humble household materials like wire, cork, fabric and string. There’s a tiny weight lifter, a sword swallower, a trapeze artist; there are ponies, a lion, a camel and a bear. The Whitney owns this piece, but it’s been off view since 2009. When it goes back on view on Dec. 9, we hope the museum once again presents it along with that short film of Calder manipulating the tiny figures into full circus life. It’s all very whimsical and charming.
Calder wasn’t the only artist fond of the theme of the circus. While we’re on the subject of Calder’s Circus and the Whitney Museum, we are going to reread Kenneth Koch’s magnificent and sad poem “The Circus,” which is all about writing a previous poem called “The Circus,” and which mentions the Whitney Museum in its first lines. You’ve probably forgotten how great this one is—have a look.