Alexander Calder

Biography of Alexander Calder

Alexander Calder was one of the first artists to put movement into sculpture—a radical development that changed art forever. Hailing from a family of sculptors, Calder was encouraged to produce art from a very young age. Initially he was more interested in the possibilities of engineering and applied kinetics. Subjects he first studied before joining the Art Students League from 1923-25 in New York.

 

Born in Philadelphia in 1898, Calder moved to Paris in 1926 and began making figures with wire, wood, and cloth. Turning his figures into a performance, his miniature circus was visited by many Parisian artists. By 1930, and after visiting Piet Mondrian’s studio, Calder became increasingly attracted to abstraction. He soon began exhibiting his famous wire sculptures which the artist Marcel Duchamp called “Mobiles”. Such works had never been seen before and moved about on random air currents as opposed to using motors. Combining abstract shapes and using industrial materials, these finely crafted forms glided in the air, perfectly poised.

 

Later the artist began making non-kinetic sculptures that revealed the components of their production, so that monumental constructions of sheet metal and their bolts were plain to see. In 1933 he moved back to America where he continued to fabricate ever-larger mobiles and sculptures, and began collaborating with dancers and composers to make set designs. In 1934 he created the monumental open-air mobile that he entitled Steel Fish.

 

A producer of enormously popular limited edition prints and multiples, Calder was also a highly-skilled jeweler. He died in 1976 in New York. He is in the permanent collections of The Whitney Museum of American Art and MoMA both in New York. He was involved in some extraordinary exhibitions including “Cubism and Abstract Art” in 1936 at MoMA, New York—an institution who championed his work and for whom he made the large mobile Lobster Trap and Fish Tail. In 1943 a retrospective dedicated to Calder was curated by Marcel Duchamp himself. He was a regular participant in documenta, I, II, and III. In 1964 he was the subject of a major retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. 

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