THE WORDS don't appear on the catalogue or any of the accompanying promotional material, but the subtitle to the Phillips Collection's "Calder Miro: A New Space for the Imagination" -- writ large only on the wall at the exhibition's entrance -- is, in its own subtle way, the defining statement of the show.

Ostensibly designed to highlight the almost 50-year friendship and artistic interchange between American sculptor Alexander Calder and Spanish painter Joan Miro (which it does with quiet intelligence), "Calder Miro" is even better at doing something else. That's making the museum's renovated Goh Annex, which has just reopened to the public with a more welcoming ground-floor entrance, look better -- and livelier -- than it ever has before.

Surely the art of these two modernist superstars, who are nothing if not in love with motion, is at least partly to thank for the now vertiginous experience of walking up the annex's curving staircase, which itself seems suddenly as animated as one of Calder's mobiles hanging overhead and as newly playful a piece of architecture as one of Miro's dancing canvases. As for the rest of the galleries -- which have been smartly installed with low white platforms cut on the bias to echo the off-kilter equilibrium of Calder's hyperactive sculptures -- they feel teeming with new and unfamiliar life forms.

This is no mean feat in a town as familiar as Washington is with Calder and Miro. The trick, then, was to make Calder's and Miro's works seem fresh to an audience that just might have been beginning to get a little sick (come on, admit it) of their ubiquity.

What "Calder Miro" does, in its juxtaposition of the artists' work, is simple (one might even say simplistic), yet highly effective. By using Calder's sculptures to underscore Miro's command of three-dimensional abstract space, and by using Miro's flat abstractions to call attention to Calder's ability to transpose 2-D pictures into a kind of floating picture plane, it invites us to see two of our oldest -- and perhaps most taken-for-granted -- friends in a new light.

It's never easy these days to make what we almost quaintly call modernism (yet which often seems all too old-fashioned) feel as radical as it once was. As much as it can, "Calder Miro" does just that, by emphasizing the sense of playfulness that, at the time they were injecting it into the world of high art, made Calder and Miro's creations so original.

As you wander around the Phillips Collection, you'll encounter something you don't find that often in museums: people laughing. Whether it's in reaction to one of Calder's wire "toys" (a tiny cow with a swollen velvet udder, for example) or at Miro's whimsical "Painting (Man With Pipe)" -- a figure midway between the Sunday funnies and the surrealism of Magritte -- there's an unstuffiness here that feels like a welcome breeze.

It's a breeze that may not help stir the air around any of Calder's gently shifting mobiles (at least not literally), but it's one that goes a long way toward blowing off some of the cobwebs, not to mention the cliches, from two of the more overexposed -- and, ironically, underappreciated -- artists of the 20th century.

CALDER MIRO: A NEW SPACE FOR THE IMAGINATION -- Through Jan. 23 at the Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St. NW (Metro: Dupont Circle). 202-387-2151. www.phillipscollection.org. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10 to 5; Thursday evenings to 8:30; Sundays noon to 7. Admission to the special exhibition is $13; $11 for students and seniors; free for members and children ages 18 and under. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster at 800-551-7328 or by visiting www.ticketmaster.com.

Public programs associated with the exhibition include:

Thursday at 6 and 7 -- Gallery talk: "Correspondence Artistique -- The Transatlantic Friendship of Calder and Miro." Free with admission to the exhibition.

Thursday at 6:30 and 7:30 -- Film screening: "Alexander Calder -- American Masters Series." Free with admission to the exhibition.

Oct. 28 at 6 and 7 -- Gallery talk: "Bad Omens and Bestiary -- Haunting Imagery in the Art of Calder and Miro." Free with admission to the exhibition.

Nov. 4 from 6 to 8 -- "Barcelona Night." Enjoy tapas, wine, performances and gallery talks at 6 and 7 on the importance of Miro's Catalan identity to his art. Free with exhibition admission. Refreshments sold separately.

Nov. 11 at 6 and 7 -- Gallery talk: "Art for the Spanish Republic -- Calder and Miro Respond to the Spanish Civil War." Free with admission to the exhibition.

Nov. 11 at 6:30 and 7:30 -- Film screening: "Calder's Circus." Free with admission to the exhibition.

Nov. 13 at 8 -- "Listen to the Art, Envision the Music." The Alexandria Symphony Orchestra performs a concert program inspired by the art of Calder and Miro at Northern Virginia Community College's Alexandria campus. For tickets and information, call 703-548-6885 or visit www.alexsym.org.

Nov. 18 at 6 and 7 -- Gallery talk: "Inspired by Toys -- Calder, Miro and the Art of Play." Free with admission to the exhibition.

Nov. 20 from 9 to noon -- Family program: "Looking to the Sky -- The Constellations of Calder and Miro." Children ages 6 to 10 accompanied by an adult listen to stories, tour the exhibition, discuss constellations and make their own universe-inspired art. To register or for fee information, call 202-387-2151, Ext. 260, or e-mail programs@phillipscollection.org.

Dec. 2 at 6 and 7 -- Gallery talk: "Sensation of the Universe -- Calder and Miro Explore the Galaxy." Free with admission to the exhibition.

Dec. 9 at 6 and 7 -- Gallery talk: "The Joy of Motion -- Calder and Miro's Collaboration With the Performing Arts." Free with admission to the exhibition.

Dec. 9 at 6:30 and 7:30 -- Film screening: "Works of Calder." Free with admission to the exhibition.

Dec. 16 at 6 and 7 -- Gallery talk: "The Gift of Art -- Expressions of Friendship Between Calder and Miro." Free with admission to the exhibition.

Dec. 23 at 6 and 7 -- Gallery talk: "Calder, Miro and the Art of Invention." Free with admission to the exhibition.

Dec. 28 from 9 to 10:15 a.m. -- Family program: "The Art of Friendship -- A Holiday Family Tour." Children ages 6 to 10 accompanied by an adult discuss the artists' friendship, create wire sculptures and experiment with balance. To register or for fee information, call 202-387-2151, Ext. 260, or e-mail programs@phillipscollection.org.

Dec. 30 at 6 and 7 -- Gallery talk: "Picturing Performers -- Calder and Miro's Images of the Circus." Free with admission to the exhibition.

Jan. 6 at 6 and 7 -- Gallery talks: "Calder Miro: The Dream of the Ballet Mechanique" (6 p.m.) and "The Courage of Miro -- From Solitude to the Soul's Rebirth in New York" (7 p.m.). Free with admission to the exhibition.

Jan. 8 from 9 to noon -- Family program: "Step Right Up -- Calder's Circus." Children ages 6 to 10 accompanied by an adult listen to stories, tour the exhibition, discuss balance and gravity, and make their own circus figures using wire and clay. To register or for fee information, call 202-387-2151, Ext. 260, or e-mail programs@phillipscollection.org.

Jan. 13 at 6:30 -- Lecture: Author Jonathan Fineberg, Gutgsell Professor of Art at University of Illinois, discusses "Calder, Miro and the Recovery of Childhood in Art." $15. To register, call 202-387-3036 or e-mail membership@phillipscollection.org.

Jan. 20 at 6 and 7 -- Gallery talk: "Calder's Mobiles and the Poetry of Motion." Free with admission to the exhibition.

Alexander Calder's wire work "Joan Miro," named for his friend of nearly 50 years.Joan Miro's "Painting (Man With Pipe)," above, and Alexander Calder's "Snake and the Cross," below, are far from stuffy. Works by the two artists bring a sense of playfulness to the Phillips Collection.