1898 – 1976, United States
Alexander Calder is considered as one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century. His famous playful and boldly colored Mobile sculptures made him a precursor of kinetic art. He used Geometric Abstraction in sculptures to explore his reflection on movement and the interplay with shapes and colors connecting his art practice with the Futurism and Constructivism movements.
Calder’s interest in the physics of motion might come from his early studies in engineering and applied physics at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken (New Jersey). However, his attraction to art led him move to New York City where he studied painting at the Art Students League from 1923 to 1926. Meanwhile, he worked as a sketch artist for the National Police Gazette. An article on circus and its festive character deeply inspired him, becoming an enduring reference in his later work.
Therefore, in 1926, Calder developed the « Calder’s Circus » (1926-1931) when he moved to Paris. It consisted in a playful performance where the artist would enact spring-actions of pull-toys performers and animals. In the meantime, he created emblematic figurative sculptures and portraits out of wires. Such work was progressively, influenced by his close friendship with the artist Joan Miró. In 1930, a visit to Piet Mondrian’s studio acted a radical turning point in Calder’s practice. From there, abandoning figuration, he started exploring the physics of motion through abstract three-dimensional « Mobiles ». Initially using mechanical motion, these balanced sculptures of brightly colored metal sheets bounded with metal wires freely floated through space following the movement of air.
In 1938, he moved back to the United States. A year later, he was commissioned by the MoMA for a large-scale mobile, Lobster Trap and Fish Tail (1939). The prestigious institution honored the young artist with a first major retrospective exhibition in 1943. Because of the supply shortage during the Second World War, Calder started using wood instead of metal for his sculptures. The later period of Calder’s work is characterized by monumental public sculptures, designated as « stabiles » after his settling in Roxbury (Connecticut) from 1957 until the 1970’s.
Calder died in 1976, few months after a major retrospective show of his work at the Whitney Museum in New York.
His work can be found worldwide in the permanent collections of leading contemporary art institutions such as the Tate Modern (London), at the MoMA, Guggenheim and the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York City), Indianapolis Museum of Art (Newfields), Centre Pompidou (Paris), among other.