Hours of Idleness-A Photographer's Journey in St. Louis

A Calder Day In Hell

Posted in art by Jason Gray on October 8, 2010

These photos were taken in the vestibule of a local record store called the Record Exchange. This shop fills an entire building that was originally built, and used by, the St. Louis Public Library, that is, until they moved into a newer construction up the street. Rumor has it, actually, it is not so much of a rumor since the owner will straight tell you, that the St. Louis Public Library left this mobile, allegedly created by Alexander Calder, dangling in the antechamber, as the library made a hasty getaway upon moving into the new building. I remember, years ago, that there was a plaque, in the same room as the mobile, commemorating it, and that it was accompanied by a photo of Calder himself, installing the work. Nonsurprisingly, this has since disappeared (the owner says that he took them home for safe-keeping).

In any event, I brought the existence of this piece up recently to a friend from work, who has some firsthand experience with the work of Alexander Calder, and he was understandably astounded. That’s where these pics come in; I made a trip back to the site in order to show him what was there, if anything was still there. Sure enough, there was the mobile that I remembered, except now it featured a disco ball and windchimes hanging from it!

More after the jump–>

What kind of a crazy person hangs a disco ball from a mobile that they suspect to be by Alexander Calder? In any case, the story gets stranger because my friend found some strange things in the pics (besides the disco ball and windchimes) that made him suspicious about the authorship of the work. He then forwarded the pics to a friend of his at the Calder Foundation who ultimately shared his sentiment. Basically, parts of it look Calderesque, and parts look very un-Calder-like.

So, the mystery remains, and if it isn’t a Calder, or isn’t all a Calder, who did it? And why then was there a pic of Calder installing? Personally, I think that Alexander Calder sold and installed a mobile for the St. louis Public Library in this location. Over time, this artwork has been subsequently modified until it has reached the state that it is in. Maybe the real question is, “Can it be conserved?” Maybe we’ll never know for sure…


3 Responses

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  1. Rachel Brock said, on August 9, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Thank you so much for posting this. I remember the mobile from when the library was new – 50 or so years ago when I was 10. I used to go there as a kid to check our books that were on our required reading list – most notably Men of Iron by Howard Pyle. Then I would wait in the vestibule for my mom (who was usually grocery shopping at the A&P down the street) to pick me up. I remember that the mobile would make these kind of odd cranking noises when it got to a certain point. And I remember that it was awe inspiring. We did think that it was a Calder mobile at the time.

    The mobile does look a little different thank how I remember it, disco ball and chimes aside. I’m going to ask my sister about it …

  2. Jason Gray said, on August 13, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Thanks for reading!

    I am so pleased that you have a memory of this from before the building was occupied by the Record Exchange. If this is a Calder, then it should probably be somewhere where it can receive some conservation and respect. I would love to hear what your sister thinks.


  3. […] A Calder Day in Hell […]

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