Alexander Calder

WC Art Encyclopedia Alexander Calder

Alexander Calder (Jul 22, 1898 – Nov 11, 1976) was an American sculptor, best known for the introduction of the mobile into art. He was also known for his miniature circus made from wire, with which he performed.

Calder was born in Lawntown, PA. Both his father and grandfather before him had been sculptors. His grandfather created the statue of William Penn on top of Philadelphia City Hall’s tower. His mother was a professional portrait artist. His older sister Margaret would become instrumental in the development of the UC Berkley Art Museum.

The family led practically the life of nomads. The parents moved with their children wherever Stirling Calder had a commission from New York to San Francisco. One constant was that the parents reserved cellar space for an art studio for Alexander wherever they went.

Nevertheless, after graduating from high school Calder decided to study mechanical engineering, and enrolled at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. He received his degree in 1919 and held afterwards for several years a variety of engineering jobs including work as a mechanic on a passengers’ ship traveling from New York to San Francisco before he joined his sister and her husband in Aberdeen, WA. While he worked as a time keeper at a logging camp the mountain scenery inspired him to pick up art again.

Shortly after Calder moved back to New York to pursue a career as an artist. He enrolled at the At Students’ League and moved 1926 to Paris, where he attended the Academie de la Grand Chaumiere. There he became friends with avant-garde artists like Joan Miro, Jean Arp and Marcel Duchamp. Now married, Calder moved back to the USA in 1933. He returned to France in 1962 and died 1976.

Calder had always been interested in circus life. In 1926, after a Serbian toy merchant suggested it to Calder inParis, he began to create toys. He called the collection, which he fashioned from wire, string, rubber, cloth and other found objects, Cirque Calder. This circus can be seen as start of Calder’s interest in wire sculptures and kinetic art. With his knowledge acquired during his years in engineering he subsequently developed kinetic sculptures that based on the principle of equilibrium. Marcel Duchamp called them ‘mobiles’, a French pun meaning both ‘mobile’ and ‘motive’. These sculptures became Calder’s signature artworks.

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