Alexander Calder is an iconic American sculptor whose career, spanning much of the 20th century and across continents is said to have profoundly changed the course of modern art.Read More
Alexander "Sandy" Calder, was born in 1898 in Lawton, Pennsylvania, to a family of celebrated, if more classically trained artists. Calder initially studied mechanical engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, graduating in 1919. This mechanical and mathematical knowledge is reflected in the creative complexity of his seminal works.
It was only years later that Calder pursued an artistic career, enrolling at the Arts Student League in New York in 1923 and working as an illustrator for National Police Gazette. In 1926 he moved to Paris to further his artistic pursuits and would later become friendly with artists such as Joan Miró, Fernand Léger, Marcel Duchamp, Piet Mondrian and the influential Abstraction-Création group.
Calder began by developing a new method of sculpting that involved bending and twisting wire, which enabled him to essentially 'draw' three-dimensional figures in space. Initially, these took figurative forms. One of the most beloved early Alexander Calder artworks, Calder's Circus (1926–1931), which he made in Paris, featured a plethora of items and articulated characters formed from twisted wire and other materials. The kinetic element of this work would inform Alexander Calder's sculptures in the years to come.
Alexander Calder is perhaps best known for his 'mobiles', suspended kinetic abstract sculptures, as well as his more solid, large-scale 'stabiles'. Across his works the artist employs primary colours and abstract geometric forms.
Alexander Calder's mobiles are perhaps his most renowned inventions, comprising suspended, abstract elements that move and balance in changing harmony. Though none were intended for children, throughout his career, Calder created numerous metal mobiles in various contexts.
Early examples such as Half-circle, Quarter-circle, and Sphere (1932) and Square (1934), moved by electric motors, however Calder soon discovered he could create mobiles that moved on their own with shifting air currents. In 1939 Alexander Calder created Lobster Trap and Fish Tail, a full scale example of his early mobiles in the main stairwell of New York's Museum of Modern Art.
During the Second World War Calder briefly utilised wood due to the scarcity of metals. After the war he reverted to using painted sheet metal, that continued to be the staple of his mobiles for much of the rest of his career. These mobiles grew in scale and complexity.
Calder also devoted himself to making outdoor sculpture on a grand scale from bolted sheet steel. Calder began experimenting with this approach in the 1930s. Alexander Calders 'stabiles' as Jean Arp coined them, in contrast to his 'mobiles' were based on the idea of 'implied movement' instead of actual movement.
Often monumental in scale these 'stabiles', occupying prominent public spaces, required the viewer to walk around them.
Today, these stately titans grace public plazas in cities throughout the world. They are popular civic icons. Arguably one of Calder's most iconic public sculptures, La Grande Vitesse (1969) has become emblematic of the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Dominating the plaza in front of City Hall, the 43 foot tall, 42 tonne steel Stabile, painted in Calder'signature red, has been at the centre of civic life and culture in Grand Rapids for over 50 years.
Alexander Calder's prints, paintings, and other artworks on paper made in the 1960s and 70s are pristine examples of the influence of Joan Miró, Theo van Doesburg, Fernand Léger, and Piet Mondrian on his practice. They are colourful compositions, rendered in vivid primary colours with a focus on line and geometric forms. Some retain almost surreal figurative elements, while others are entirely abstract.
Alexander Calder also created a substantial collection of jewellery, which borrows some of the contrasting abstract elements of his sculptures.
Calder's legacy in the realm of public sculpture spans multiple continents. Alexander Calder sculptures can be found in public spaces ranging from Sydney, Australia, to Carracas in Venezuela and Jerusalem.
Major monumental commissions include .125 (1957), a suspended in Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International), Spirale, made for Maison de l'UNESCO in Paris (1958); El Sol Rojo , installed outside the Aztec Stadium in Mexico City for the 1968 Olympic Games; and the stabile Flamingo (1973), made for the General Services Administration in Chicago.
The Calder Foundation website can be found here and the Calder Foundation's Instagram can be found here.
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2022