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 ... stout and smart ... Casual art fans in a hurry will find more detail here than they want from this exceptionally informed art commentator ... Perl similarly gives vivid life to his subject, discerningly and lovingly bringing to the stage of his page Calder’s colossal daring.
... [Perl] does not generally seek to prove or explain or argue for the deeper seriousness of Calder’s sculptures, and perhaps he should not need to do so. Instead, he allows the lavish illustrations to speak for themselves while he charts Calder’s life through a well-researched and engaging narrative rich in anecdotes. Like most biographers, Mr. Perl is fully on the side of his subject and quick to leap to Calder’s defense when he feels that a critic like Greenberg, or a dealer like Pierre Matisse, has behaved badly toward his protagonist ... an elaborate (and well-deserved) tribute that amounts to an all but officially authorized biography ... And yet Mr. Perl has set himself a difficult and in some ways unenviable task here. If the first volume recounted the heroic struggles and improbable triumphs of the young artist, as well as the process of his self-discovery, the second is largely a review of his increasingly inevitable success ... 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.
Perl’s narrative makes Calder come alive ... Perl is a gifted writer and he tells the story with obvious affection for the artist. He seems to have seen every work that Calder made and writes about them with verve and insight. The sections about Calder creating sets for theater and ballet productions, along with his entertaining illustrated books, provide a full portrait of the artist and reveal Calder’s great gifts. Perl also addresses Calder’s skills as a draftsman and printmaker – two aspects of his oeuvre that are easily overlooked ... 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.