Alexander Calder biography


Alexander Calder was born in 1898 in the state of Pennsylvania, United States, into a family of artists. As a child, he was given tools and a workshop where he made toys and jewelry for his sister’s dolls. In his twenties, Calder moved to New York, where he studied at the Art Students League and produced his first paintings. He worked for the National Police Gazette, illustrating sporting events and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey Circus.


Calder moved to Paris in 1926, where he 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. At this time, Calder also expanded upon his invention of wire sculpture, whereby he “drew” with wire in three dimensions the portraits of friends, animals, circus themes, and personalities of the day. His famed series of the performer Josephine Baker date to this period.


“Aside from the sketch of his wire heads, [Calder] doesn't make statues. It was probably this absorption in rhythm that made him seek to introduce later in his work a new element, the actual motion, and not its representation,” as Mário Pedrosa points out in his article Calder, Escultor de Cata-Ventos [Calder, the Sculptor of Pinwheels], originally published in 1944 in Correio da Manhã.


In the fall of 1931, a radical shift occurred in Calder’s artistic career when he created kinetic abstract sculpture and gave form to an entirely new type of art. The earliest of these objects moved by motors and were dubbed “mobiles” by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) – in French, “mobile” refers to both “motion” and “motive.” Calder soon turned away from the motorized compositions of his earliest mobiles and developed works that respond to air currents and human interaction. He also created stationary abstract works that Jean Arp (1886-1966) dubbed “stabiles.”


In 1933, Calder and his wife, Louisa, left France and returned to the United States, where they purchased an old farmhouse in Roxbury, Connecticut. Calder went on to receive two important commissions: Mercury Fountain for the Spanish pavilion at the 1937 Paris World’s Fair, and Lobster Trap and Fish Tail (1939) for the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The following decade was a remarkably productive period for Calder,

during which time he expanded upon his practice and 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.


Calder first traveled to Brazil in 1948 on the occasion of solo exhibitions in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Notably, his works went on to be included in the 1st and 2nd São Paulo Art Biennials, and the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro (MAM-Rio) held a solo exhibition of his work in 1959. In all, he made three trips to this country, and he established friendships with renowned Brazilian artists and architects, such as Roberto Burle Marx (1909-1994), Rino Levi (1901-1965), Henrique Mindlin (1911-1971), Heitor dos Prazeres (1898-1966) and Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1992).


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 Acoustic Ceiling (1954), for the Aula Magna auditorium at the Universidad Central de Venezuela; .125 (1957), for the New York Port Authority in John F. Kennedy Airport; and Spirale (1958), for UNESCO in Paris. In Italy, Calder created Teodelapio, a stabile over 58 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 an industrial ironworks, he began to fabricate monumental works, and he devoted much of his later years to public commissions. Some of his most important projects include Trois disques for the 1967 Expo 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 Museum of Modern Art, New York (1943); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1964); The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1964); Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris (1965); Fondation Maeght, 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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