Alexander Calder (1898–1976)

Best known for his innovative sculptures, Alexander Calder was at the forefront of abstraction during the twentieth century. Calder developed an interest in sculptural forms at an early age, creating small figurines for his family in the workshop prepared for him by his artist-father, Alexander Stirling Calder. Although he demonstrated great talent, Calder did not immediately pursue a career in the arts and, instead, earned a degree in Engineering from the Stevens Institute of Technology (this degree would prove useful in his later artistic pursuits).

In 1923, Calder moved to New York and joined the Art Students League where he was instructed by Ashcan School compatriots, George Luks and John Sloan. After a brief stint sketching scenes from Ringling Brother and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Calder followed many of his colleagues across the Atlantic to Paris. It was in the “City of Lights” that he truly developed his own creative vision. Beginning with wire marionettes for his “Cirque Calder,” Calder developed a vocabulary of biomorphic and geometric forms that would be further articulated in his later sculpture, oil paintings and works on paper. The artist’s unique performances were widely publicized and his works eventually attracted the attention of artists Joan Miro, Fernand Leger, Marcel Duchamp, and Piet Mondrian.

Using his marionettes as inspiration, Calder next designed lightweight metal sculptures constructed to dangle gracefully from ceilings. Both the construction and material used by the artist enabled his sculptures to move when encouraged by a passing viewer or change in air movement (not surprisingly, these works would be dubbed “mobiles,” by the ever-witty Duchamp). In addition to sculpture, Calder also created a number of oil paintings and works on paper. These compositions related to his sculpture in that they typically used primary and secondary colors – hues believed by Calder to be the origin of all other tones. This medium also allowed the artist to showcase his simplified and abstract biomorphic and/or geometric shapes in one-dimension.

Calder’s abstract works were celebrated equally in Europe and the United States, which he returned to in 1933. Calder was honored with a number of retrospectives during his lifetime, including one at the Guggenheim Museum (1964) and the Whitney Museum of America Art (1976). His work can be viewed in almost every major museum worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as at the Museum of Western Art, Moscow, and the UNESCO Building in Paris.
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Selected Bibliography:
Unknown author. “Calder’s Life.” The Calder Foundation, www.calder.org.
Falk, Peter Hastings, ed.. Who Was Who in American Art 1564-1975: 400 Years of Artists in
America.
Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1999.
Janson, H.W. Janson’s History of Art, The Western Traditions. Edited by Penelope J. Davies et al,
7th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2007.

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