New York, New York, USA
Summary of Alexander Calder
American artist Alexander Calder redefined sculpture by introducing the element of movement, first through performances of his mechanical Calder's Circus and later with motorized works, and, finally, with hanging works called "mobiles." In addition to his abstract mobiles, Calder also created static sculptures, called "stabiles," as well as paintings, jewelry, theater sets, and costumes.
- Many artists made contour line drawings on paper, but Calder was the first to use wire to create three-dimensional line "drawings" of people, animals, and objects. These "linear sculptures" introduced line into sculpture as an element unto itself.
- Calder shifted from figurative linear sculptures in wire to abstract forms in motion by creating the first mobiles. Composed of pivoting lengths of wire counterbalanced with thin metal fins, the appearance of the entire piece was randomly arranged and rearranged in space by chance simply by the air moving the individual parts.
Biography of Alexander Calder
Alexander Calder, known as Sandy, was born into a long line of sculptors, being part of the fourth generation to take up the art form. Constructing objects from a very young age, his first known art tool was a pair of pliers. At eight, Calder was creating jewelry for his sister's dolls from beads and copper wire. Over the next few years, as his family moved to Pasadena, Philadelphia, New York, and San Francisco, he crafted small animal figures and game boards from scavenged wood and brass. Calder's interest initially led not to art, but to mechanical engineering and applied kinetics, which he studied at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey (1915-1919).
Important Art by Alexander Calder
In this work Calder experimented with setting a large collection of miniature acrobats, animals, and other figures in motion using springs and pulleys. Calder's Circus exemplified the playful wit that infused much of Calder's subsequent work. Three films were made of Calder's Circus performances, but the work's significance is that it is one of the earliest modern works in which the artist is equally involved as both a "maker" and a performer.
Calder's illustrations for the National Police Gazette were often made of single, continuous lines. He learned this technique in mechanical drawing classes at the Art Students League. In 1925, Calder was the first to extend this line drawing approach into three dimensions. He soon began creating figurative and portrait sculptures using only wire to "draw in space." His several sculptures of dancer Josephine Baker were his earliest works in this direction. These artworks were important in furthering both his career-long use of wire and his interest in open-space sculpture.
In the early 1930s Calder's desire to create abstract paintings that moved through space led to motorized works such as A Universe, in which the two spherical shapes traveled at different rates during a 40-minute cycle. Interested in astronomy, he compared his works' discrete moving parts to the solar system. These works were an important step towards his non-motorized mobiles, as well as forerunners to his Constellation series of the 1940s.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Alexander Calder
- Alexander Calder and His Magical MobilesBy Jean Lipman
- The Essential Alexander CalderOur PickBy Howard Greenfeld
- Calder: An Autobiography with PicturesBy Alexander Calder
- Alexander Calder: The Paris Years, 1926-1933 (Whitney Museum of American Art)Our PickBy Joan Simon, Brigitte Leal
- Calder, 1898-1976 (Album Series)By Jacob Baal-Teshuva
- Calder: Gravity and GraceBy Carmen Gimenez
- The Surreal CalderBy Mark Rosenthal, Francisco Calvo Serraller
- Calder JewelryBy Alexander S.C. Rower
- Calder: Gouaches 1942-1976By PaceWildenstein
- Calder at Play: Finding Whimsy in Simple WireOur PickBy Holland Cotter / The New York Times / October 16, 2008
- From a Big Imagination, a Tiny CircusOur PickBy Kathryn Shattuck / The New York Times / October 10, 2008
- The Merry ModernistBy Robert Hughes / Time / May 4, 1998
- All Calder, High and LowBy Roberta Smith / The New York Times / March 27, 1998
- Calder RevisitedBy Geoffrey T. Hellman / The New Yorker / October 22, 1960
- Smithsonian Archives of American Art - 1971Oral History interview with Calder
- NPR - July 22, 2008Our PickAbout Jewelry exhibition at Philadelphia Museum of Art
- NPR - August 15, 2001About sculpture Retrospective at Storm King Art Center in New York
- Calder's Pittsburg Airport ControversyOur PickPittsburgh City Paper / October 23, 2003 / By Chris Potter
- Le Guichet (The Ticket Window) (1963)New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center / New York, NY
- Saurien (1975)590 Madison Avenue / New York, NY
- Sidewalk (1970)1014-1018 Madison Avenue / New York, NY