Home Arts Seattle Art Museum receives 48 works by Calder and $10 million from ex-Microsoft chairman and wife

Seattle Art Museum receives 48 works by Calder and $10 million from ex-Microsoft chairman and wife

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In one fell swoop, the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is home to one of the world’s most important collections of works by American modernist sculptor Alexander Calder. While his previous collections of his works, numbered 13 piecesComposed almost entirely of works on paper, it just received a symbolically and truly enormous donation of the artist’s works from former Microsoft Chairman Jon Shirley and his wife Kim.

The 48 works donated by the Shirleys include more than three dozen sculptures, ranging from table stabiles to monumental hanging mobiles and encompassing most of Calder’s career, spanning from 1927 to 1973. Among them are figurative works like the playful wire sculpture. Cow (circa 1930) and the rare Fish (1942), an example of his ingenious use of alternative and found materials such as glass and porcelain when metal became scarce during World War II. The gift also includes textbook examples of Calder’s classic style from the late 1940s, such as the intricate mobile Gamma (1947), as well as larger and more colorful works later in his career, such as the large standing mobile Red Curly Tail (1970).

Alexander Calder, Fish1942 © 2023 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Nicholas Shirley

In addition to the works, the Shirleys give SAM their 85-book Calder Library, an endowment of $10 million, and between $250,000 and $500,000 annually to support Calder-centered programming and research. The first installment of this ongoing support, a gift of $1 million, will be used to mount an exhibition featuring the 48 works from the Shirleys’ gift, which will open in November.

“Calder is an artist whose work is seemingly ubiquitous,” SAM Director and CEO Amada Cruz said in a statement. But, she added, “we have lost sight of the enormous artistic innovations for which he was responsible – from wire sculpture to the invention of the mobile – and the enormous impact he had on people. artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. The extraordinary generosity of Jon and Kim Shirley allows us to explore the multiple facets of this creative genius.

Jon and Kim Shirley with Alexander Calder’s mountains (1:5 intermediate model, 1976) at the Pace Gallery in New York © 2023 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo courtesy of Jon and Kim Shirley

The Shirleys are longtime supporters of SAM and both currently serve on its board of directors, of which Jon served as chairman from 2000 to 2008. Along with his late wife Mary, Jon also gave the museum the founding gift that enabled the construction of its public art venue, the Olympic Sculpture Park. Jon and Mary also provided the funds that enabled the museum to acquire Calder’s 38-foot-tall sculpture The Eagle (1971), one of the iconic elements of the Olympic Sculpture Park.

“From the moment I bought my first work 35 years ago, I cherished the experience of living with Calder and from that moment I built my collection very intentionally,” Jon, who served as president and chief operating officer of Microsoft from 1983 to 1990 and served on its board of directors until 2008—said in a statement. “I visited Calder’s seminal exhibition at the National Gallery in 1998 and decided soon after to build a museum-worthy collection of his work.” He also built a worthy museum vintage sports car collection.

Alexander Calder, Scattered objects with brass gong1948 Photo courtesy of Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, New York. © 2023 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The SAM will dedicate its double-height gallery space to Calder-related exhibits, beginning with the Shirleys’ Gift exhibit. In 2024, the space will host a group exhibition putting his work in dialogue with pieces by contemporary sculptors.

Seattle isn’t the only city vying to be a destination for Calder buffs. The Calder Foundation, based in New York, is building a new institution in Philadelphia, Calder Gardens, to present his work. Calder was born in a suburb of Philadelphia. This institution should open in 2024.

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