Alexander Calder, Untitled, 1966, ink and gouache on paper, 29-1/2" × 43-1/4" (74.9 cm × 109.9 cm) © 2020 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Harry Callahan, Kleenex and Penny on Opal Glass, c. 1952, vintage gelatin silver print mounted to board, 3-3/4" × 4-5/8" (9.5 cm × 11.7 cm), image and paper, 14-3/8" × 11" (36.5 cm × 27.9 cm), mount © The Estate of Harry Callahan

Calder, Callahan, and the Intensified Image

Despite mastering different mediums while operating in distinct artistic milieus, Alexander Calder and Harry Callahan shared a sensitivity to the fundamentals of art—form, color, and line, among others—that led to their invention of uniquely modern visual idioms.

In his statements on photography, Callahan repeatedly expressed a desire “to see freshly and feel intensely.” “I’m interested in revealing the subject in a new way, to intensify it,” he explained, elaborating elsewhere, “The difference between the casual impression and the intensified image is about as great as that separating the average business letter from a poem.” In linking his artistic pursuit of intensity to a modernist, lyrical distillation, Callahan was not alone. Calder, too, observed that in art “the elimination of other things which are not essential will make for a stronger result.” Similarly to Callahan, Calder believed that “an abstraction, sculpted or painted,” represented “an intensely exciting arrangement of planes, spheres, nuclei without meaning.” He later concluded, “To most people who look at a mobile, it’s no more than a series of flat objects that move. To a few, though, it may be poetry.” ​

Organized into three subsections drawn from Callahan’s words, this online exhibition explores the poiesis or means by which both artists achieved an “intensified image” across different mediums, pushing modern art toward radically new horizons. ​

Alexander Calder, Untitled, 1956, oil on canvas, 35" × 51-1/4" (88.9 cm × 130.2 cm) framed, 37-1/8" × 53-3/16" x 2-3/8" (94.3 cm × 135.1 cm)

Interior of Calder’s house in Saché, 1976, Photograph by Pedro Guerrero © The Estate of Pedro E. Guerrero

Compositions “Filled with Conflict and Choices”​​

Whether exploring in-camera multiple exposures or unorthodox materials such as tissue, Callahan consistently mined new photographic techniques. By reshooting on sheet film, for example, he opened his work to chance, creating dynamic and gossamer superimpositions with an almost surrealistic quality. A germane experimental will motivated Calder to alternate between his sculptural practice and two-dimensional mediums. Whereas his airy mobiles move in subtle ways, energy reaches a feverish pitch in his densely packed oil paintings, where vividly colored shapes jostle for dominance. This coupling of what Callahan terms “conflict and choices,” or risk-taking and calculation, propelled the oeuvres of both artists, yielding daring yet sophisticated compositions. 

Harry Callahan, Eleanor, Chicago, 1953, vintage gelatin silver print mounted to board, 3-5/8" × 4-5/8" (9.2 cm × 11.7 cm), image and paper 8" × 10" (20.3 cm × 25.4 cm), mount
Alexander Calder, The Yellow Disc, 1958, oil on canvas, 35" × 48" (88.9 cm × 121.9 cm)
Alexander Calder, White Counterbalance, 1948, sheet metal, wire, and paint, 10-1/2" x 10" x 3" (26.7 cm x 25.4 cm x 7.6 cm)

“Objects behind other objects should not be lost to view but should be shown through the others by making the latter transparent. The wire sculpture accomplishes this in a most decided manner.”

Alexander Calder​

Harry Callahan, Eleanor, Chicago, c. 1952, gelatin silver print, 3-5/8" × 4-3/4" (9.2 cm × 12.1 cm), image, 5" × 8" (12.7 cm × 20.3 cm), paper, print made 1970s

“I’m trying to answer the unexpected. When I continued on that basis . . . [my art] drifted into something else. By working at it . . . by doing it, that’s the only way you discover. And that’s the only way for me.”

Harry Callahan

Alexander Calder, Untitled, 1966, ink and gouache on paper, 29-1/2" × 43-1/4" (74.9 cm × 109.9 cm),framed, 31-3/4" (80.6 cm) x 44-13/16" (113.8 cm) x 2-3/16" (5.6 cm)
Harry Callahan, Kleenex and Penny on Opal Glass, c. 1952, vintage gelatin silver print mounted to board, 3-3/4" × 4-5/8" (9.5 cm × 11.7 cm), image and paper 14-3/8" × 11" (36.5 cm × 27.9 cm), mount

To me the most important thing in composition is disparity.

Alexander Calder​

Alexander Calder, Lines of Flow, 1947, oil on canvas, 30" x 40" (76.2 cm x 101.6 cm)

“Going Abstract” with Color

By applying color to his mobiles and stabiles, Calder further dissolved the boundary between sculpture and painting, which the pronounced linearity of his “drawings in space” had already initiated. In his painted works, color often plays a dominant role by, for example, gaining sculptural density as saturated blocks or overtaking the entirety of the picture plane. Though Calder used secondary colors, such as pink and orange, his predilection for an unnaturalistic and reductive palette points to his dialogue with eminent abstract painters in his entourage, notably Piet Mondrian and Fernand Léger. Nonfigurative painting similarly informed Callahan, who felt that color photographs could easily look “goofy” when straightforwardly representational. Reminiscent of Neoplasticism and the New York School, his trailblazing color photography structures and balances its chromatic expanses through an almost architectonic understanding of geometry and line, indicative of the additional influence of architect Mies van der Rohe.

Providence by Harry Callahan

Harry Callahan, Providence, 1971, dye transfer print, 11-1/4" × 10-7/8" (28.6 cm × 27.6 cm), image 15-1/4" × 13-1/2" (38.7 cm × 34.3 cm), paper

I want things to be differentiated. Black and white are first—then red is next . . . It's really just for differentiation, but I love red so much that I almost want to paint everything red.

Alexander Calder​

Alexander Calder, Untitled, 1972, ink and gouache on paper, 29-1/2" x 43-1/8" (74.9 cm x 109.5 cm), framed, 31-1/2" (80 cm) x 45-1/4" (114.9 cm) x 1-3/4" (4.4 cm)
Harry Callahan, New York, 1974, vintage gelatin silver print, 10" × 9-7/8" (25.4 cm × 25.1 cm), image 12" × 11" (30.5 cm × 27.9 cm), paper
Harry Callahan, Kansas City, 1981, dye transfer print, 9-1/2" × 14-3/8" (24.1 cm × 36.5 cm), image, 20" × 23-3/4" (50.8 cm × 60.3 cm), paper, Edition of 12 + 5 APs, print made 1970s
Harry Callahan, Sunlight on Water, 1943, vintage gelatin silver print, 3-1/4" × 4-1/2" (8.3 cm × 11.4 cm), image 4" × 5" (10.2 cm × 12.7 cm), paper

Line on “the Edge of Nothingness”

A spare beauty characterizes the work of Callahan and Calder, especially in terms of line. By overexposing his photographs or playing with shutter speed, Callahan skillfully captured the evanescent and unnoticed—from humble weeds in the snow to ethereal whorls of light refracted in pools of water—thereby pushing his chosen medium, as well as perception itself, to its limits. “I think nearly every artist continually wants to reach the edge of nothingness—the point where you can’t go any further,” he mused. With similar ingenuity, Calder harnessed the optical and physical lightness of wire to devise a type of sculpture open to space and movement, thus breaking with a longstanding sculptural tradition largely limited to carving and modeling static volumes. Through their swift brushstrokes of varying thickness, his gouaches also reveal his sensitivity to the delicate vitality of the natural world that, as with Callahan, resonated with his work. ​

Alexander Calder, Untitled (Cartoon for Centre Square, Philadelphia Banner), 1975, gouache and ink on paper, 43-1/8" × 14-3/4" (109.5 cm × 37.5 cm), framed, 53-1/8" (134.9 cm) x 24-5/8" (62.5 cm) x 7/8" (2.2 cm)
Harry Callahan, Weed Against Sky, Detroit, 1948, gelatin silver print, 7" × 6-7/8" (17.8 cm × 17.5 cm), image 10" × 8" (25.4 cm × 20.3 cm), paper

Harry Callahan © Rhode Island School of Design Archives

“I like the simple things. I don't know why. I'm that way. I came from a simple place.”

Harry Callahan​

Alexander Calder, Untitled, 1969, sheet metal, wire, and paint, 79" x 61" (200.7 cm x 154.9 cm)
Harry Callahan, Aix-En-Provence, 1958, vintage gelatin silver print mounted to board, 7-7/8" × 6-1/8" (20 cm × 15.6 cm), image and paper 14-1/2" × 11-1/2" (36.8 cm × 29.2 cm), mount

Harry Callahan, Aix-en-Provence, 1958, Atlanta. Hands: Harry Callahan, 2/10/94, 1994, Photograph by John Loengard, Collection Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona © 1994 John Loengard

Wire, rods, sheet metal have strength, even in very attenuated forms.

Alexander Calder​

Alexander Calder, Tentacles, 1947, sheet metal, wire, and paint, 22" x 36" x 38" (55.9 cm x 91.4 cm x 96.5 cm)
Harry Callahan, Camera movement on flashlight, Chicago, c. 1949, gelatin silver print, 6-1/4" × 4-1/2" (15.9 cm × 11.4 cm), image, 9-3/8" × 7" (23.8 cm × 17.8 cm), paper, print made 1970s
To inquire about works by Alexander Calder or Harry Callahan, please email

All works by Alexander Calder © 2020 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

All works by Harry Callahan © The Estate of Harry Callahan

Calder Portrait.jpeg

Calder in his Roxbury studio, 1941, Photograph by Herbert Matter © 2020 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Alexander Calder

Alexander Calder (1898–1976) is one of the most acclaimed and influential artists of the twentieth century. His wide body of work includes sculptures, paintings, drawings, prints, book illustrations, jewelry, tapestries, and costumes as well as set designs for ballets and theatrical productions. He is most celebrated for his invention of wire sculpture—described by critics as “drawings in space”—and the mobile, a kinetic sculpture of suspended abstract elements whose actual movement creates ever-changing compositions. Calder’s stabiles, which suggest implied rather than actual movement, similarly transform their surrounding space and the experience of the viewer. Calder also devoted himself to making outdoor sculpture on a grand scale from bolted sheets of steel, many of which stand in public plazas in cities throughout the world. Pace Gallery has worked closely with the Calder estate since 1984.

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Harry Callahan © Stephan Brigidi

Harry Callahan

Harry Callahan (b. 1912 in Detroit, Michigan; d. 1999, Atlanta, Georgia), one of the foremost American photographers of the 20th century, began his photographic career as a self-taught amateur in 1938, at the uncommonly late age of 26. He devoted himself to the medium after attending a Detroit Photo Guild workshop taught by Ansel Adams in 1941 and an ensuing meeting with Alfred Stieglitz in 1942. He soon became recognized for his arresting photographs, which emphasized the formal elements of composition and structure; evinced pronounced graphic or painterly qualities; and captured the emotional depth of their subject matter. Callahan repeatedly returned to the same subjects—his wife Eleanor and daughter Barbara, the urban environment, and nature—throughout his prolific six-decade career while devising new methods to depict these.

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  • Past, Calder, Callahan, and the Intensified Image, Jul 14, 2020