Real Art for Kids: Calder's Circus at the Whitney

1/28/09 - By Anna Fader


There are some great exhibits at the "real" art museums that are fun enough that you shouldn't have to drag your kids to, or through. This is the first in a series of posts about some of current art exhibits recommended for kids in New York City.  

You've probably already heard about the Calder Exhibit at the Whitney. It's been promoted a lot. People love Calder's Circus, which is a miniature reproduction of an actual circus, made from wire, cork, wood, cloth and other household objects. Calder would perform the circus for people as his "day job" and the exhibit has videos showing how he performed it, bringing it to life for kids.

One of the things that I love about the Alexander Calder story is something I learned about him on a PBS American Masters program. Apparently, when he was a child, all Calder wanted to do was play with wire. He loved to make little toys and things with scraps of wire and his mother completely indulged this. I love this story because as a parent, we all know that child who refuses to do what they are supposed to do and is obsessed with one seemingly useless endeavor. How aggravating it is to try to bend children to our will and get them to conform to the requirements of society. I love the idea that there is value in the play of children and their obsessions and that, let to flower and grow, we may all be surprised by what comes out of them.

Why kids will like Calder: The Paris Years


Calder exemplifies the mystique of the artist as a child who never grew up. His work is whimsical, imaginative and fun. Of course, kids will be drawn to the Circus piece, which is basically a big (beautiful) toy, and watching a grown man play with it is even more fun. But children also like Calder's wire portraits for that same whimsy and imagination. They are child-like, innocent and puzzling. And of course his mobiles are so popular for children, they became a nursery staple.

What to do and talk about:
Puzzle over the fact that Calder invented the mobile. Really, something that we have in our rooms at home started out as an art object, invented by an artist? Cool.

After being inspired by how Alexander Calder uses everyday objects to create new things and his inventiveness Children may be inspired to try their own inventions and creations. Buy a little bit of wire or use other household items to create your own animals, people, circus or anything you feel inspired to do. Or if you're not a do-it-yourselfer try a wire art kit, which has everything kids need to make colorful jewelry or other fun stuff from wire.

There's also an exhibit of Calder's jewelry at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that might make a nice counterpoint for a second trip

Alexander Calder: The Paris Years
Whitney Museum of Art
945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street
New York, NY 10021
(212) 570-3600
Adults: $15 Children: Free
Pay what you wish Friday evenings

Through February 15, 2009
Check museum site for hours.: