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Mountains and Clouds
August 10, 2006


Alexander Calder's Mountains and Clouds at the Hart Building

A friend who works in the Senate offered to meet me in the Hart Building before heading over to show me around some special collections rooms at the Library of Congress. My trip inside the Hart Building was my first visit to the Senate offices, and I was surprised to find that the building's atrium hosts a monumental Calder sculpture: Mountains and Clouds. Kudos to the appropriate Senate office for keeping such complete information about the work and its history on the Senate Web site.

The mobile (or Clouds) was composed with a few broad, clustered leaves. For a Calder, it has a dense center; perhaps factors related to the commission and the site contributed to the distinct design, and in particular the mechanical apparatus that was intended to rotate the mobile. (According to the Web site, a new bearing system is being designed to rotate the mobile.)

Mountains and Clouds was the last piece Calder ever made—though he didn't finish it. From the site:

On November 10, 1976, Calder brought the Mountains and Clouds maquette–-his twenty-inch sheet-metal model–-to Washington, D.C., so that he could present it to the architect of the Capitol and finalize the placement of the piece. After making minor adjustments to two of the clouds, he expressed satisfaction with the maquette as positioned in a model of the atrium. This proved to be a final visit: Calder died of a heart attack that night after he returned to New York City.

At first glance, the backdrop for Mountains and Clouds, the Hart building's grid-lined atrium, reminded me of nothing so much as D.C.'s Mies Van der Rohe–designed Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library—I imagined that the black matte finish from the library's gridded exterior had washed off the Hart's interior walls and coalesced as a sculpture.


Posted by Kriston on August 10, 2006 in American Art Elsewhere


Comments

Wow, I think that's the only Calder I've ever seen that is at all representational. Are there others?

Interesting that he made the clouds black. Even though they're floating, they have the same visual weight as the mountain.

I work in an office in the atrium and watched the sculpture being erected. The clouds were so delicately balanced that they moved constantly by only air currents in the building. After a few years of a real mobile, they made it stationary for some "safety" reason.

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