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The Conquest of Space: The Later Years: 1940-1976 (A Life of Calder #2)

Jed Perl


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The concluding volume to the first biography of one of the most important, influential, and beloved twentieth-century sculptors, and one of the greatest artists in the cultural history of America--is a vividly written, illuminating account of his triumphant later years.

The second and final volume of this magnificent biography begins during World War II, when Calder--known to all as Sandy--and his wife, Louisa, opened their home to a stream of artists and writers in exile from Europe. In the postwar decades, they divided their time between the United States and France, as Calder made his first monumental public sculptures and received blockbuster commissions that included Expo '67 in Montreal and the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Jed Perl makes clear how Calder's radical sculptural imagination shaped the minimalist and kinetic art movements that emerged in the 1960s. And we see, as well, that through everything--their ever-expanding friendships with artists and writers of all stripes; working to end the war in Vietnam; hosting riotous dance parties at their Connecticut home; seeing the "mobile," Calder's essential artistic invention, find its way into Webster's dictionary--Calder and Louisa remained the risk-taking, singularly bohemian couple they had been since first meeting at the end of the Roaring Twenties. The biography ends with Calder's death in 1976 at the age of seventy-eight--only weeks after an encyclopedic retrospective of his work opened at the Whitney Museum in New York--but leaves us with a new, clearer understanding of his legacy, both as an artist and a man.

Praise For Calder: The Conquest of Space: The Later Years: 1940-1976 (A Life of Calder #2)

"The noted art critic concludes his stately, authoritative biography with this look at the sculptor’s career triumphs and legacy."—The New York Times

“It takes a big-hearted, ambitious biographer to take on the life of a big-hearted, ambitious artist. Alexander Calder has found a perfect match in Jed Perl.”The Washington Post 
“A passionate, erudite, and scrupulously researched reckoning with one of the 20th century’s most exciting artists.”The Atlantic
“A well-researched and engaging narrative rich in anecdotes . . . By the end of Mr. Perl’s second volume, we are left in no doubt as to the depth and durability of Calder’s career.”The Wall Street Journal

"Perl’s narrative makes Calder come alive . . . Unlike the other major artists of the 20th century, Calder has never had a comprehensive biography that set his life and work in context. Thanks to Jed Perl’s magisterial work, now he does."The Christian Science Monitor

“The monumental conclusion to a two-part biography of Alexander Calder . . . In this masterfully researched work, Perl has constructed an impressive monument that should raise the standards for future art biographies . . . Erudite and accessible . . . Exquisite . . . A towering achievement.”Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“Perl completes his magisterial biography of sculptor Alexander Calder with this lavishly illustrated volume . . .  Calder admirers will delight in this exhaustively researched and illuminating retrospective.”Publishers Weekly (starred)

"An erudite, wide-ranging biography gives us the fun-loving, sophisticated man in full."—David D’Arcy, The Art Newspaper

"A gargantuan effort . . .  Super-fans will learn everything they’ve ever wanted to know, and probably more, about this influential artist."New Criterion

Knopf, 9780451494115, 688pp.

Publication Date: April 14, 2020

About the Author

JED PERL is a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books. He was the art critic for The New Republic for twenty years and a contributing editor to Vogue for a decade, and is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. His previous books include Magicians and Charlatans, Antoine's Alphabet, and New Art City, which was a New York Times Notable Book and an Atlantic Book of the Year. He lives in New York City.