Alexander Calder

Alexander Calder

Alexander Calder was born in 1898 to artist parents—his father was a sculptor and his mother was a painter. While living in Pasadena in 1906 amidst the flourishing Arts and Crafts Movement, Calder was given his first tools and a workshop where he made toys and jewelry for his sister’s dolls. In his twenties, Calder moved to New York and studied at the Art Students League where he produced paintings congruous with the Ashcan aesthetic. He worked concurrently at the National Police Gazette, illustrating sporting events and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. During this period, he commonly used sheet metal and wire for sculptures and other projects.

Soon after moving to Paris in 1926, Calder created Cirque Calder (1926–31). Made of wire and a spectrum of found materials, Cirque was a work of performance art that gained Calder an introduction to the Parisian avant-garde. Calder continued to explore his invention of wire sculpture, whereby he “drew” with wire in three dimensions portraits of friends, animals, circus themes, and personalities of the day. Calder called these figurative wire works “objects” as opposed to “sculpture” to signify his decisive break from the solidity of clay, bronze, and marble.

In the fall of 1931, a radical shift in Calder’s artistic career occurred when he created kinetic abstract sculpture and gave form to an entirely new type of art. The earliest of these objects moved by systems of motors, and were dubbed “mobiles” by Marcel Duchamp—in French, “mobile” ingeniously refers to both “motion” and “motive.” Calder soon turned away from the motorized compositions of his earliest mobiles, developing works that respond to air currents, light, humidity, and human interaction. He also created stationary abstract works that Jean Arp dubbed “stabiles.”

In 1937, Calder completed Devil Fish, his first stabile enlarged from a model. He received two important commissions: Mercury Fountain for the Spanish pavilion at the 1937 Paris World’s Fair, and Lobster Trap and Fish Tail for the main stairwell of the new Museum of Modern Art building in New York in 1939. His earliest retrospective was held at the George Walter Vincent Smith Gallery in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1938. Another retrospective followed in 1943 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, curated by James Johnson Sweeney and Duchamp. At that time, Calder was the youngest artist ever to whom the museum had dedicated a full-career survey, which was so popular that it was extended into 1944.

In the decades following World War II, Calder gained international distinction. In 1946, he had a major show at Galerie Louis Carré in Paris for which Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a seminal essay. He made the first of three extended trips to Brazil in 1948, where he held highly successful exhibitions in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. In 1952, he accepted the commission for Acoustic Ceiling (1954) for the Aula Magna auditorium at the Universidad Central de Venezuela. That same year, Calder represented the United States at the Venice Biennale, winning the Grand Prize for sculpture.

During a yearlong stay in Aix-en-Provence in 1953, Calder executed the first group of large-scale outdoor works and concentrated on painting gouaches. In 1954 and 1955, he visited the Middle East, India, and South America, with trips to Paris in between, resulting in an astonishing output and range of work. Calder soon turned his attention to commissions both at home and abroad, producing such recognizable works as .125 (1957), a mobile hung in John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, and Spirale (1958), a major commission for UNESCO in Paris. In Italy, Calder created Teodelapio, a stabile over fifty-eight feet tall, for the 1962 Spoleto Festival.

In 1963, Calder completed the construction of a large studio overlooking the Indre Valley in Saché, France. With the assistance of a full-scale, industrial ironworks, he began to fabricate monumental works and devoted much of his later working years to public commissions. Some of his most important projects include Trois disques for the 1967 exposition in Montreal; El Sol Rojo for the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games; and La Grande vitesse for Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1969. Major retrospectives of Calder's work were held at the Guggenheim Museum in New York (1964); The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1964); Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris (1965); Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France (1969); and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1976). Calder died in New York in 1976 at the age of seventy-eight.

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Selected Works

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  • Untitled
    1947
    Sheet metal, wire, and paint
    27 1/2 x 27 1/2 x 9 inches (69.9 x 69.9 x 22.9 cm)
    © 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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  • Red Toadstool
    1949
    Sheet metal, wire, paint
    21 x 16 x 8 inches (53.3 x 40.6 x 20.3 cm)
    © 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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  • Eight Black Dots
    c. 1950
    Sheet metal, wire, paint
    15 x 12 x 5 inches (38.1 x 30.5 x 12.7 cm)
    © 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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  • Untitled
    c. 1952
    Painted sheet metal, wire, and brass
    13 3/8 x 11 13/16 x 4 3/4 inches (34 x 30 x 12 cm)
    © 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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  • Cafritz Fountain (maquette)
    1966
    Sheet metal and paint
    8 x 9 1/2 x 7 inches (20.3 x 24.1 x 17.8 cm)
    © 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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  • Untitled
    c. 1934
    Brass wire, glass, buttons, and string
    27 1/2 inches (69.9 cm)
    © 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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  • Untitled
    c. 1942
    Sheet metal, wire, and paint
    13 1/2 x 8 x 6 inches (34.3 x 20.3 x 15.2 cm)
    © 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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  • Untitled
    c. 1947
    Sheet metal, wire, and paint
    10 x 15 1/2 x 2 3/4 inches (25.4 x 39.4 x 7 cm)
    © 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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  • Caged Stone and Fourteen Dots
    c.1948
    Sheet metal, wire, stone, rod, and paint
    36 1/2 x 34 x 10 inches (92.7 x 86.4 x 25.4 cm)
    © 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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Video

Alexander Calder: MULTUM IN PARVO at Dominique Lévy New York

March 22, 2017

April 22 – June 13, 2015
Dominique Lévy presented Alexander Calder: MULTUM IN PARVO, an exhibition of over forty rare small-scale sculptures by an American master, installed in an environment conceived for them by the architects Santiago and Gabriel Calatrava.

Exhibitions

Other Exhibitions

Publications

Selected Press

Artforum | Alexander Calder

September 1, 2015

Once Alexander Calder’s sculptures began to be sited in Boston; Paris; Spoleto; Italy; Mexico City; …

Modern Painters | Reviews in Brief: New York - Alexander Calder

July 1, 2015

“Multum in Parvo” proves that Calder’s compositions are elegant and commanding even at a miniature …

The New York Times | Review: Alexander Calder’s Intimate, Encompassing ‘Multum in Parvo’

June 4, 2015

If you require further proof of the greatness of Alexander Calder, this exceptional show should do …

Modern Decoration | Alexander Calder: Multum in Parvo

June 1, 2015

Alexander Calder was born in 1898 to artist parents—his father was a sculptor and his mother was …

Cultured | Poetry in Motion

May 12, 2015

It’s a perfectly unexpected pairing. Santiago Calatrava, he of fantastical bridges and billowing …

Financial Times | Critics' Choice: Alexander Calder

May 2, 2015

Just one work here: the two-by-four-metre mobile “Blue and Yellow Among Reds” hovers above the …

Interior Design | a matter of perspective

May 2, 2015

“All my life I have cultivated the sketch. I do it every day, sometimes in charcoal, sometimes in …

WNYC | Calder's Tiny Mobiles, Presented by a Flashy Architect

April 25, 2015

The architect behind grand projects—  including a controversial transit hub 10 years in the making …

Wallpaper | Small Fortunes: Alexander Calder's miniature marvels on display at Dominique Lévy gallery

April 23, 2015

Alexander Calder’s aerodynamic mobiles and monumental stabiles may be well-known fodder to modern …

Art in America | Alexander Calder. MULTUM IN PARVO

April 23, 2015

In 1948, on the occasion of his wife’s 43rd birthday, Alexander Calder presented Louisa with a cigar …

T Magazine | A New Exhibition Examines Alexander Calder

April 22, 2015

Opening today at Dominique Lévy in Manhattan, “Alexander Calder: Multum in Parvo” displays more …

art critical | Pas de Deux: Calder and Calatrava on Madison Avenue

April 21, 2015

Dominique Lévy has opened a jewel of a show of Alexander Calder in her Madison Avenue gallery. But …

Artnet | See Rare, Mesmerizing Alexander Calder Sculptures at Dominique Lévy

April 21, 2015

“Intimacy” is not a word that first comes to mind when thinking about Alexander Calder‘s steel …

FT HOW TO SPEND IT | Calder and Calatrava at Dominique Lévy

April 15, 2015

New York gallerist Dominique Lévy’s new Alexander Calder show Multum in Parvo, opening …

Wall Street International Magazine | Alexander Calder. MULTUM IN PARVO

April 2, 2015

Beginning April 22nd, Dominique Lévy is pleased to present Alexander Calder. MULTUM IN PARVO, an …

Architectural Digest | Small, intricate pieces by Alexander Calder on display at a New York exhibition

March 31, 2015

For many people, the name Alexander Calder brings to mind large mobiles and monumental red steel sculptures …

The New Yorker | Alexander Calder The Complete Bronzes

November 19, 2012

We think of Calder tinkering, not using molds; but creation by touch tapped a splendid earthiness …

New York Times | Relics of a Sculptor’s Bronze Age

November 8, 2012

The American sculptor Alexander Calder (1898-1976) was blessed with several kinds of genius.

Wall Street Journal | In the Realms of Flight and Fantasy

June 12, 2010

In recent years we’ve seen a resurgence of shows in which artists are paired. MoMA’s “Matisse …

At First Sight | Yves Tanguy & Alexander Calder

June 9, 2010

A stand-out title from the D.A.P. Fall 2010 catalogue is L&M Arts Yves Tanguy & Alexander Calder: …

ArtNews | Yves Tanguy and Alexander Calder

May 31, 2010

Titled “Tanguy Calder: Between Surrealism and Abstraction” this fascinating and unexpected exhibition …

NY Art Beat | The Museum Alternative

May 25, 2010

The creative electricity one feels while traversing the Tanguy/Calder “Between Surrealism and Abstraction” …

New York Observer | Art on the Avenue

May 17, 2010

In New York, art is nothing if not convenient. Some single streets feature more art galleries than …

New York Times | Shedding New Light on Old Friends

May 13, 2010

Alexander Calder and Yves Tanguy — old friends, drinking buddies and Connecticut neighbors — are …

The New Yorker | Tanguy, Calder

May 3, 2010

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