Elephant Chair with Lamp
1928 by Alexander Calder
Calder is most famous for inventing the hanging mobile, and you would recognise them if you saw them; bright, surreal little shapes hanging from long stretching supports. The Guggenheim New York has a little collection; one end of a room is transformed into the brightly coloured nursery of surrealism. Elephant Chair appears restrained in colour, sporting none of the Calder’s usual brightness but appearing instead in dull grey steel. But it is elephant grey, beginning a personification that is inherent throughout this piece, and one that appears to encompass its entirety. The being of this little sculpture (sadly, it is only 7 inches high) is playful in itself, with simple shape and angle coming together to form a personality. The curved and slightly clumsy ‘n’ weighs the structure down, while the more delicate head and large flapping ears, paper-thin with movement, reach upward to support the trunk, which itself curves upwards and round in a most pleasing and whimsical fashion. Hanging from these happily looping spirals is what appears as a bell, but then we see the word lamp, the possibility of use to this seemingly pointless but pleasing structure presents itself. There is something so satisfying about turning an object of brilliant imagination into a spin on a mundane object of everyday use. One wonders what the effect would have been had the Elephant Chair materialised into life-size.