As artistic matches made in heaven go, few are as potent as Alexander Calder and Joan Miro.
The beloved American sculptor and the even more revered Catalan painter, upon crossing paths in Paris in the early 1930s, began a friendship that would last until Calder's death in 1976.
Their work has been exhibited together so often over the past 75 years that museum-goers could be forgiven for wondering where Miro's surrealistic army of shapes and figures stops and Calder's exquisitely balanced mobiles begin.
That is very much the effect of a show that opened in late March in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery's out-of-the-way Link Gallery, where it will remain on view through April of next year. But the Albright-Knox's contribution to the annals of Calder-Miro synergy distinguishes itself by the addition of an entrancing variable to that well-worn formula: the sculpture and print work of the German-born French artist Hans Arp.
"You have Arp and Calder," explained the show's curator, Holly E. Hughes. "And Miro is where they meet."
The fact that this powerful little exhibition was conjured exclusively from the collection of the Albright-Knox, as part of its ongoing "Spotlight on the Collection" series, makes its success all the more heartening. Unlike its sprawling "Spotlight" predecessor, a much larger show that allowed the gallery to trot out the bulk of its impressive holdings in Picasso, Braque and Sonia Delaunay, this exhibition draws its connections with much greater ease. The synapses are closer together, so to speak, so the sparks of pleasure are closer at hand.
Without knowing a whit about art history, it's easy to play a game of "connect the dots" between such things as Miro's razor-thin lines and the little wisps of metal that hold the moving pieces of Calder's mobiles aloft. Or to find in Miro's famous and inexhaustibly alluring painting "Harlequin's Carnival" a reflection of Arp's biomorphic sculptural forms, which look like human or animal figures at the brink of mitosis. The connections are everywhere apparent, and they let the public in on a game from which art critics draw so much pleasure: the game of discovering connections.
The show really starts outside the Link with Calder's iconic sculpture "The Cone," a system of impossibly light discs and rods suspended from a hulking black base, in curious conversation with pieces by Robert Mangold, Donald Judd, Felix Gonzalez-Torres and other unexpected bedfellows.
Suspended at the entrance to the Link is Calder's 1950 sculpture "Conger" (named for gallery trustee A. Conger Goodyear), a sort of strangely attenuated spaceship, with a rudder of primary colors propelling a network of oddly shaped plates, maybe lifted from the crust of some celestial body.
In the Link itself, Arp declares his presence with the towering marble "Classical Sculpture," a 1964 piece that renders the female body in a continuous, bulbous form that has the strange and unsettling allure of a half-melted department store mannequin.
Elsewhere in the Link, we're given rare glimpses into the Albright-Knox's collection of works on paper by Arp and Calder (also a prolific painter), as well as Arp's own wonderful brass sculptures and, of course, that Miro canvas ("Harlequin's Carnival") that provides a key, as Hughes suggested, to the forms that pop up in Calder's and Arp's work alike.
The show's works on paper will rotate in September -- another reason, among many, to return to the Link and to get lost in the work of this fruitful and fascinating trio.
WHAT: "Artists in Depth: Spotlight on the Collection: Arp, Miro and Calder"
WHEN: Through April 2012
WHERE: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1285 Elmwood Ave.
TICKETS: $5 to $12
INFO: 882-8700, www.albrightknox.org