Alexander Calder – Abstract Art Revolutionary

Alexander Calder – Abstract Art Revolutionary
Calder 'redefined' sculpture during the 20th century with his mobiles and large public works. I’ll discuss the man with 'childlike' qualities, which artists influenced his work, and his extensive oeuvre.

Alexander Calder, known to his friends as 'Sandy,' was born in 1898.
He studied math, physics, and kinetics in school – which would later become helpful with his 'inventions.'
The one day, or occurrence, that forever changed his life was when he saw a red sunrise and a silvery moon at the same time. He then began to wonder about the universe and the relationship between the planets. Cosmology was the latest topic - it was 1916 when Albert Einstein published his "Theory of Relativity" and Pluto, a dwarf planet, was discovered in 1930.

In the 1920s, Calder went to Paris, like so many other writers, philosophers and artists of the time.
He began using wire and wood as his medium which would continue throughout his life.
The Left Bank of Paris was known as the place where intellectuals and artists would meet.

While the Moulin Rouge cabaret was immortalized by Toulouse Lautrec, Calder was fascinated by the dancer, Josephine Baker. He made her likeness by using a single piece of wire. He was even known to dance with the work of art (when suspended).

The circus, also popularized by Picasso, captured his imagination to such a point, that in 1953 he devised a miniature circus that he would use to entertain his friends. "Cirque de Calder" became a hit.

In 1927, Calder went to NY where he had his first solo exhibition.
While in NY, he studied wood carving. He would travel from NY to Paris regularly.

Calder’s second solo show was in a Paris gallery, followed by Berlin.
In his second NY show, the gallery displayed his works: sculptures, wood carvings, paintings, toys, jewelry, and freestanding mechanical sculptures.

It was 1930 when Calder visited fellow artist Piet Mondrian in Paris.
When Calder watched Mondrian work with colored cardboard rectangles, he had the idea of integrating motion.
Calder’s first attempt at kinetic sculptures was motorized – these did not come without problems - the objects would break down or the repetition became boring.

Calder’s objects of abstraction and random motion became known as 'mobiles' as the name was coined by readymade artist Marcel Duchamp. 'Mobile' is a French pun for 'motion' and 'motive.'

Calder began using his signature materials: wire and sheet metal – aluminum being his favorite raw material. Artists: Joan Miro, Paul Klee, and Pablo Picasso influenced shapes and colors.
In his personal collection were works by Miro and Leger.

The artist’s first outdoor sculpture was "Whale" (1937), an abstract work that would forever change public sculpture.
Calder had an exhibition at MOMA in 1945. He called his pieces "objects" as he didn’t want to defend his sculptures. Since this was during time of war, Calder began using pieces of glass, wood, and plaster.
He also began incorporating music into his exhibitions.

Calder’s talent was far reaching - designing tapestries, commercial wallpaper, stage sets, illustrating books, posters, prints, and jewelry. But that didn’t stop Calder.

In his 40s he reinvented himself and began to make large abstract works – made of steel and bolts.
When Calder was asked "Why are the sculptures so large?" he replied, "It’s more exhilarating."

Calder was larger than life (in both size and personality), and his world famous large public art was meant to evoke contemplation.

Said to be a generous man, Calder gifted thousands of pieces of his hand made works of art to friends and acquaintances. A catalog of his works contained 16,000 pieces, in all mediums.

You can own the book, "Alexander Calder: Avant-Garde in Motion," by M. Ackermann & S. Meyer-Buser, available here from

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