Alexander Calder in the Photographs of Ugo Mulas


23 October 2009 - 14 February 2010
Curated by Pier Giovanni Castagnoli


The second floor hosts a section of the Calder exhibition entitled Alexander Calder in the Photographs of Ugo Mulas, curated by Pier Giovanni Castagnoli for the Ugo Mulas Archive in Milan, our partner in the development of the project.

A selection of some eighty pictures are on show, all of them printed using silver nitrate on barium paper, created by the photographer himself (vintage) between 1963 and 1968 on the basis of photographs that he took in the artist's studio homes in Roxbury, Connecticut and in Saché, France, as well as in other locations which witnessed the presence of Calder and his works.
The great Italian photographer, who died young (Pozzolegno, Brescia 1928 – Milan 1974), met Calder in Spoleto in 1962 when Giovanni Carandente summoned him to produce a photographic record of the Sculptures exhibition in the city. It was for this exhibition that Calder produced the large-scale work Teodelapio, which he was to subsequently donate to the Umbrian art city.  The two men's meeting fostered a solid and enduring friendship which was to lead to a formidable corpus of photographs, a number of which were published in 1971 in a book spawned by the cooperation between Ugo Mulas, critic H. Harvard Arnason and the artist himself (U. Mulas and H- H. Arnason, Calder, Milan 1971).


In 1973, in a book in which Mulas sought to review the main phases of his career and which in more general terms represents a crucial reflection on photography as an art form (Ugo Mulas, La Fotografia, edited by Paolo Fossati, Einaudi, Turin 1973), Mulas dedicated an article to Calder entitled Friendship (the article is reproduced in the catalogue to this exhibition), in which he says:  "The environment, the man and friendship have often crucially influenced my work, and Calder has been a leading player in that.  I wanted to do something truly fine for him; I wanted photographs that were indicative of his approach - of the playful aspect of his work - and also loving and personal photographs, with his wife, with his daughters, with his grandchildren, in his American home in Roxbury, in his home in Saché on the Indre, in short, the kind of photographs you might find in a souvenir album.  No other intention should emerge from the photographs than a declaration of my love for his work and of the joy his friendship gave me.  It is an all-embracing tribute, and also an attempt to capture the way he looked, which was reminiscent of an old patriarch with an ironic sense of humor.  I liked the fact that he devoted his energy to everything to which he turned his hand with equal intensity, that he managed to build pitchforks or kitchen ladles that were no less beautiful than his sculptures (...) the dedication and skill with which he moves when making his heads or figures using only wire, and without ever cutting it (...) or the gouaches he makes without a paintbrush, playing on the movement and inclination of the sheet of paper (...)".

Before concluding his career with the Verifiche, "pictures whose subject matter is photography itself", Mulas devoted a large part of his work as a photographer to art, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say to artists, using his lens to study their behavior in an effort to capture and to summarize their mental processes in a picture.  He photographed them in their studios intent on creating their works of art, at exhibitions, in company or in moments of solitude.  He is famous for his groups of photographs, which have often been turned into books:  on the Venice Biennali (Dal 1954 al 1972, Le Verifiche e la Storia delle Biennali, edited by Tommaso Trini, Venice 1974), on David Smith (Giovanni Carandente, Voltron: David Smith, New York 1964), on American artists (New York:  Arte  e Persone, with Alan R. Solomon, Milan, New York, Barcelona 1967), on Lucio Fontana (Lucio Fontana, with poetry by Nanni Balestrini, Milan 1968), on Fausto Melotti (Fausto Melotti, lo Spazio Inquieto, edited by Paolo Fossati with an article by Italo Calvino, Turin 1971), on Marcel Duchamp (Marcel Duchamp, Milan 1973), on Pietro Consagra (Fotografare l’Arte, with an introduction by Umberto Eco, Milan 1973), and on Arnaldo Pomodoro (Guido Ballo, Alberto Boatto, Gillo Dorfles, Libro per le sculture di Arnaldo Pomodoro, Milan 1974).


The strength of his pictures lies also in their critical and interpretative value, in the happy synthesis that he proved capable of forging from his observations of the artist and of the way the artist created and understood his own work.  His lens, a full-fledged critical eye, reflects the exemplary attention which he devoted to others, offering interesting keys for interpretation conceived as works in their own right thanks to their lofty aesthetic value.  What is particularly striking in some of the photographs on Calder is the emphasis he places on Calder's hands, as though he were attempting to highlight the value that the sculptor set by artisan skill in an era in which a conceptual approach predominated; or the nature of the mobiles which the artist himself seems to impersonate by adopting deliberately humorous poses for his friend's lens; or the sequences in which Mulas causes a small stabile figure to "dance", as though he were trying to prove that it is absolutely impossible to forgo movement in Calder's work.