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“I paint with shapes” is how Alexander Calder once described his practice. It’s a statement that aptly captures the late sculptor’s play with structure, color, and kineticism, but as well, the spatiality of his work. Whether in his mobiles or monumental public sculptures — “The Arch” at Storm King, “Spirale” outside Maison de l’Unesco in Paris — his work has been celebrated for carving ever-shifting shapes out of environments, in turn redefining the relationship between form and space.

And the newest space that Calder’s work is about to occupy? The Web3 landscape. In a partnership between the Calder Foundation and TRLab, the artist’s archives and artwork are slated to be showcased in an interactive NFT art experience centered on education, collection, and ultimately, conservation.

What’s happening

The Calder Question

The interactive experience will offer intimate encounters with Calder’s work and the chance to collect limited-edition NFTs created specially for the Calder Question. Image: The Calder Question

This fall, the Calder Question will be set in motion by TRLab, a digital art collecting platform, with the participation of the Calder Foundation, the organization dedicated to preserving and exhibiting the artist’s oeuvre. The platform is free to join for anyone with a crypto wallet.

According to early press materials, the initiative aims to educate viewers about Calder’s life and practice by offering intimate and unparalleled encounters with his work through the Foundation’s holdings. The experience is also gamified: visitors are invited to solve visual challenges for the chance to unlock physical rewards and collectibles, and purchase limited-edition NFTs created specially for the Calder Question. A select number of participants who complete all levels of the experience are promised a private guided tour of the artist’s studio and private residence in Connecticut.

Pre-registration for the project is now open, with early comers and TRLab’s top collectors set to receive special access. As well, TRLab will be giving away On-Chain Attendance Badges, which grant holders an Early Edge priority access, and can be collected at online and offline events.

Why it matters

“NFTs give us the means to share the Calder Foundation’s rich holdings and deep expertise with art enthusiasts in an entirely new and innovative way,” said Audrey Ou, Co-Founder and CEO of TRLab. Image: TRLab

That the Calder Question has education as its focus is no accident. As Alexander S. C. Rower, President of the Calder Foundation and Calder’s grandson, revealed to Artnet, he was far from a NFT enthusiast, seeing “no sense to do some digital reproduction of pre-existing art.” Rather, his conversion hinges on the potential of the Web3 space “to foster a deep understanding of [his] grandfather’s work.” Audrey Ou, Co-Founder and CEO of TRLab, also reports Rower telling her, “Everyone can always learn more about Calder.”

So even prior to its release, the project is clear with purpose that has informed its interactive and gamified design. With this, it’s elaborating on the utility of NFTs, leveraging them not as mere tokens to be traded, but as elements with which to build a newly enriching art experience.

It’ll also have real-world benefits. All proceeds from the Calder Question are set to go toward the Foundation’s Sculpture Conservation Fund — a plan that mirrors recent efforts by institutions like the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Vasarely Foundation which have fundraised via NFTs in the name of conservation.

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What they said

“With a non-living artist, the focus was much more on the education and the gamified experience that NFTs could bring rather than doing something that has no meaning and exists just as a digital copy.” — Audrey Ou, Co-founder and CEO, TRLab

“Calder was a pioneer in perception who continually reinvented ways to communicate his ideas. If he were alive today, I am certain that he would be at the forefront of digitally native art.” — Alexander S. C. Rower, President, Calder Foundation

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