Alexander Calder

1898 – 1976

American sculptor and draughtsman, pioneer of mobiles. Born in Philadelphia into a family of artists, Alexander “Sandy” Calder’s father and grandfather were well-known academic sculptors and his mother a portrait painter.

Calder graduated with a degree in engineering in 1919. He worked as an engineer and took art classes in New York before he went to Paris in 1926. In Paris, Calder made paintings and toys leading to his Circus, an activated environment first performed in Paris in 1926. This early performance piece was seen by avant-garde artists in Paris, including Fernand Léger, Piet Mondrian and Le Corbusier. During his stay in Paris he also became friendly with Miró and Pascin, and in 1931 he joined the group Abstraction-Creation. Encouraged, he turned to wire as a medium, creating portraits of celebrated people of the day as well as his friends. This was a new medium with no precedent. These improvised wire sculptures described as three-dimensional line drawing brought him notoriety and recognition in Europe before America. Under the influence of Mondrian and the Constructivists, Calder’s work became more abstract and geometric. The first moving sculptures were hand-cranked or run by rudimentary motors. Duchamp named these early works mobiles. Calder also began making Stabiles, stationary works made of large sheets of metal connected by bolts. In the 1940’s, Calder’s Mobiles and Stabiles became larger, sometimes achieving architectural proportions. By the 1960’s, Calder received many commissions for large-scale stabiles that often resemble witty monsters or bizarre animals. Awarded the main prize for sculpture at the 1952 Venice Biennale and the First Prize for Sculpture at the 1958 Pittsburgh International. Died in New York.