Alexander Calder was born in 1898 in Lawton, Pennsylvania in the US and died in 1976 in New York. Having studied mechanical engineering, he left Stevens Institute of Technology in the 1920s for New York where he pursued his artistic début at Arts Students League, a school where Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg and Louise Bourgeois would also study. In parallel, Calder worked as an illustrator for multiple newspapers and agencies.

In 1926, he moved to Paris and discovered Avant-Garde European art, particularly the work of Jean Arp and Marcel Duchamp. Fascinated by the circus, the artist created the « Cirque Calder » between 1927 and 1929: a gathering of 200 characters made of wire, laundry pins and cloths with which he presented two-hour performances. Sat in front of his piece, the artist handled the characters to create a puppet illusion, which was eventually televised on the BBC in 1938. The « Cirque Calder » then went on to be exhibited internationally, notably at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris in 2009.

In 1931, he joined the collective Abstraction-Création, at the sides of avant-garde artists such as Joan Miró and Piet Mondrian. It is during these years that Calder began to develop his famous ‘mobiles’, abstract sculptures made from wire, metal, and wood. Sometimes ornated with « Mondrianic » even primary colors, these united surrealist shapes had influences of fauna and flora. The name ‘mobile’ exemplifies Calder’s attraction to playful movement: sculptures rotate with the wind and are sometimes equipped of small motors before the artist relays movement to forces of nature and chance. In 1949, he constructed his biggest ‘mobile’ for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which was exhibited in the main staircase of the museum. This kinetic art remains one of the most established facets of Calder’s practice, along with numerous drawings, paintings, monumental sculptures and décors.

In 1943, the Museum of Modern Art organized the first retrospective in his honor. In 2007, the same museum hosted the exhibition « Focus: Alexander Calder. » In 1952, he received the grand prix of the Venice Biennale. More recently, it is the Beaux-Arts museum of Montréal that exhibited more than 150 of his artworks in 2018. Calder received the Bicentennial Artist Award from the Whitney Museum of American Art of New York City in 1976, as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977.
Alexander Calder
Photo Credit : © Arnold Newman