Hang It High: Calder's

Mobile Flies Again

* It has the wingspan of the International Space Station and floats gently above visitors at a Washington museum.

But the exhibit that was carefully rehung yesterday isn't a space module at the Air and Space Museum; it is a 76-foot-wide mobile by artist Alexander Calder and it now hangs again at the National Gallery of Art.

The untitled mobile -- an enormous version of what might have hung over your crib when you were a baby -- has been off display for a year. Some of the joints in the mobile's 13 arms had become worn and its 13 panels didn't move as easily as they did when it was first hung in 1977, a year after Calder died. The mobile also got a new coat of paint.

The mobile is a magnificent piece of art, but it's also a very complicated engineering feat.

Calder wanted to create a steel sculpture that moved gently as air current passed over it. However, steel was too heavy. The mobile eventually was built using much-lighter aluminum -- and it still weighs 920 pounds.

Despite its size and beauty, there's something about a mobile that makes everyone feel like a kid. "I just want to grab it and spin it around," grown-up Susan Malabasa admitted mischievously as she looked up at the newly hung mobile yesterday.

Abigail Mack watches over the placement of the Calder mobile.Abigail Mack watches over the placement of the Calder mobile.