Alexander Calder Artworks

American Sculptor

Alexander Calder Photo
Born: July 22, 1898
Lawnton, Pennsylvania
Died: November 11, 1976
New York, New York, USA

Progression of Art

Calder's Circus (1926-1931)

Calder's Circus

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.

Mixed media: wire, wood, metal, cloth, yarn, paper, cardboard, leather, string, rubber tubing, corks, buttons, rhinestones, pipe cleaners, bottle caps - Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York

c. 1927
Josephine Baker (III) (c. 1927)

Josephine Baker (III)

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.

Steel wire - Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York

A Universe (1934)

A Universe

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.

Painted iron pipe, steel wire, motor, and wood with string - Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York

Arc of Petals (1941)

Arc of Petals

From the 1930s on, Calder created non-mechanized hanging, standing, and wall-mounted mobiles, whose movement was driven by random air currents. Early versions often used scavenged bits of glass or pottery, while later ones were generally comprised entirely of flat metal shapes painted solid red, yellow, blue, black, or white, such as this work. Calder succeeded in integrating natural movement into sculpture by assembling elements that balance themselves naturally by weight, surface area, and length of wire "arm." The basic equilibrium he struck guarantees compositional harmony among the parts, no matter their relative positions at any given moment. Though many other artists have since created works based on his principles, even now, decades later, Calder is still the undisputed master of this form of sculpture.

Painted and unpainted sheet aluminum, iron wire, and copper rivets - Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy

Devil Fish (1937)

Devil Fish

Counterpoint to his mobiles, Calder created many stabiles, composed of intersecting shaped planes of bolted sheet metal, often painted a single color. Devil Fish was the first larger-scale stabile Calder made. By forming combinations of curved biomorphic shapes, Calder creates a swirling sense of motion, even in a static sculpture such as this. Later stabiles combined both organic and geometric forms.

Sheet metal, bolts and paint - Calder Foundation, New York, New York

Man (1967)


During his later years Calder produced many monumental stabiles and mobiles as public works for sites worldwide. Man was commissioned for Montreal's Expo '67. At 65 feet tall, its one of Calder's largest sculptures. Works such as Man contributed to the proliferation of public art during the second half of the 20th century. Such grand stabiles are dynamic works, with their arches, points, and flowing forms reaching out in multiple directions.

Stainless steel plate and bolts - City of Montreal, Canada

Similar Art

Pablo Picasso: The Three Musicians (1921)

The Three Musicians (1921)

Piet Mondrian: Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray, and Blue (1921)

Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray, and Blue (1921)

Related Artists

Related Movements & Topics

Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Alexander Calder Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. .
Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 01 Sep 2012. Updated and modified regularly
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