Alexander Calder

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Alexander "Sandy" Calder
Alexander Calder, by Carl Van Vechten, 1947
Alexander Calder, by Carl Van Vechten, 1947
Born (1898-07-22)July 22, 1898
Lawnton, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died November 11, 1976(1976-11-11) (aged 78)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Nationality United States
Education Stevens Institute of Technology, Art Students League of New York
Known for Sculpture
Movement Kinetic art
Awards Presidential Medal of Freedom[1]

Alexander Calder (/ˈkɔːldər/; July 22, 1898 – November 11, 1976) was an American sculptor known as the originator of the mobile, a type of kinetic sculpture made with delicately balanced or suspended components which move in response to motor power or air currents. Calder’s stationary sculptures are called stabiles. He also produced numerous wire figures, notably for a miniature circus.

Early life[edit]

Alexander "Sandy" Calder was born in Lawnton, Pennsylvania on July 22, 1898. His father, Stirling Calder, was a well-known sculptor who created many public installations, a majority of them in nearby Philadelphia.

Sandy Calder's grandfather, sculptor Alexander Milne Calder, was born in Scotland, immigrated to Philadelphia in 1868, and is best known for the colossal statue of William Penn on top of Philadelphia City Hall's tower. Sandy Calder's mother, Nanette (née Lederer), was a professional portrait artist, who had studied at the Académie Julian and the Sorbonne in Paris from around 1888 until 1893. She moved to Philadelphia where she met Stirling Calder while studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Sandy Calder's parents married on February 22, 1895; his sister, Mrs. Margaret Calder Hayes, is considered instrumental in the development of the UC Berkeley Art Museum.[2]

In 1902, Sandy Calder posed nude for his father’s sculpture The Man Cub, which is now located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. That same year he also completed his earliest sculpture, a clay elephant.[3] Three years later, Stirling Calder contracted tuberculosis, and Calder's parents moved to a ranch in Oracle, Arizona, leaving the children in the care of family friends for a year.[4] The children were reunited with their parents in late March 1906 and stayed at the ranch in Arizona until fall of the same year.[5]

After Arizona, the Calder family moved to Pasadena, California. The windowed cellar of the family home became Calder's first studio and he received his first set of tools. He used scraps of copper wire that he found in the streets to make jewelry and beads for his sister's dolls. On January 1, 1907, Nanette Calder took her son to the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, where he observed a four-horse-chariot race. This style of event later became the finale of Calder's wire circus shows.[6] (Thomas Wolfe mocks the performances in his novel You Can't Go Home Again, in which Calder appears as a character named "Piggy Logan.")[7]

In the fall of 1909, the Calder family moved back to Philadelphia, where Sandy briefly attended Germantown Academy, then moved to Croton-on-Hudson, New York.[8] That Christmas, he sculpted a dog and a duck out of sheet brass as gifts for his parents. The sculptures were three-dimensional and the duck was kinetic because it rocked when gently tapped.[9] In Croton, during his early high school years, Calder was befriended by painter Everett Shinn with whom he built a gravity powered system of mechanical trains. Calder described it, "We ran the train on wooden rails held by spikes; a chunk of iron racing down the incline speeded [sic] the cars. We even lit up some cars with candle lights".[10] After Croton, the Calders moved to Spuyten Duyvil to be closer to the Tenth Street Studio Building in New York City, where Stirling Calder rented a studio. While living in Spuyten Duyvil, Sandy Calder attended high school in nearby Yonkers. In 1912, Stirling Calder was appointed acting chief of the Department of Sculpture of the Panama–Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, California,[11] and began work on sculptures for the exposition that was held in 1915.

During Sandy Calder's high school years (1912–1915), the family moved back and forth between New York and California. In each new location, Calder's parents reserved cellar space as a studio for their son. Toward the end of this period, Calder stayed with friends in California while his parents moved back to New York, so that he could graduate from Lowell High School in San Francisco. Calder graduated with the class of 1915.[citation needed]

Life and career[edit]

In 1915, Calder decided to study mechanical engineering, and enrolled at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.[12] When asked why he decided to study mechanical engineering instead of art Calder said, "I wanted to be an engineer because some guy I rather liked was a mechanical engineer, that's all." [13] At Stevens, Calder was a member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity and excelled in mathematics.[14] He was well-liked and the class yearbook contained the following description, "Sandy is evidently always happy, or perhaps up to some joke, for his face is always wrapped up in that same mischievous, juvenile grin. This is certainly the index to the man's character in this case, for he is one of the best natured fellows there is." [13]

In the summer of 1916, Calder spent five weeks training at the Plattsburg Civilian Military Training Camp. In 1918, he joined the Student’s Army Training Corps, Naval Section, at Stevens and was made guide of the battalion.[15]

Calder received a degree from Stevens in 1919.[12] For the next several years, he held a variety of engineering jobs, including working as a hydraulic engineer and a draughtsman for the New York Edison Company. In June 1922, Calder found work as a mechanic on the passenger ship H. F. Alexander. While the ship sailed from San Francisco to New York City, Calder worked on deck off the Guatemalan Coast and witnessed both the sun rising and the moon setting on opposite horizons. He described in his autobiography, "It was early one morning on a calm sea, off Guatemala, when over my couch—a coil of rope—I saw the beginning of a fiery red sunrise on one side and the moon looking like a silver coin on the other."[16]

The H.F. Alexander docked in San Francisco and Calder traveled up to Aberdeen, Washington, where his sister lived with her husband, Kenneth Hayes. Calder took a job as a timekeeper at a logging camp. The mountain scenery inspired him to write home to request paints and brushes. Shortly after this, Calder decided to move back to New York to pursue a career as an artist.

Red Mobile, 1956, Painted sheet metal and metal rods, a signature work by Calder - Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Calder moved to New York and enrolled at the Art Students' League, studying briefly with Thomas Hart Benton, George Luks, Kenneth Hayes Miller, and John Sloan.[17] While a student, he worked for the National Police Gazette where, in 1925, one of his assignments was sketching the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Calder became fascinated with the circus, a theme that would reappear in his later work.

In 1926, Calder moved to Paris, visited the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and he established a studio at 22 rue Daguerre in the Montparnasse Quarter. In June 1929, while traveling by boat from Paris to New York, Calder met his future wife, Louisa James (1905-1996), grandniece of author Henry James and philosopher William James. They married in 1931. While in Paris, Calder met and became friends with a number of avant-garde artists, including Joan Miró, Jean Arp, and Marcel Duchamp. Calder and Louisa returned to America in 1933 to settle in a farmhouse they purchased in Roxbury, Connecticut, where they raised a family (first daughter, Sandra born 1935, second daughter, Mary, in 1939). In 1955 Alexander and Louisa Calder travelled around in India for three months, where Calder produced nine sculptures as well as some jewelry.[18]

In 1962, Calder settled into his new workshop Carroi, which was of a futuristic design and overlooked the valley of the Lower Chevrière to Saché in Indre-et-Loire (France). He did not hesitate to offer his gouaches and small mobiles to his friends in the country. He even donated to the town a stabile trônant (enthroned stabile), which since 1974 has been situated front of the church: an anti-sculpture free from gravity.[citation needed] Throughout his artistic career, Calder named many of his works in French, regardless of where they were destined for eventual display.

In 1966, Calder published his Autobiography with Pictures with the help of his son-in-law, Jean Davidson.

Calder died unexpectedly on November 11, 1976, shortly after opening a major retrospective show at the Whitney Museum in New York.

Artistic work[edit]

In 1926, at the suggestion of a Serbian toy merchant in Paris, Calder began to make toys. At the urging of fellow sculptor Jose de Creeft, he submitted them to the Salon des Humoristes. Later that fall, Calder began to create his Cirque Calder, a miniature circus fashioned from wire, string, rubber, cloth, and other found objects. Designed to fit into suitcases (it eventually grew to fill five), the circus was portable, and allowed Calder to hold performances on both sides of the Atlantic. He gave improvised shows, recreating the performance of a real circus. Soon, his Cirque Calder[19] (usually on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art at present) became popular with the Parisian avant-garde.

In 1927, Calder returned to the United States. He designed several kinetic wooden push and pull toys for children, which were mass-produced by the Gould Manufacturing Company, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. His originals, as well as playable replicas, are on display in the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Throughout the 1930s, Calder continued to give Cirque Calder performances, but he also worked with choreographer Martha Graham, designing stage sets for her ballets and created a moving stage construction to accompany Eric Satie's Socrate in 1936.


The Cirque Calder can be seen as the start of Calder's interest in both wire sculpture and kinetic art. He maintained a sharp eye with respect to the engineering balance of the sculptures and utilized these to develop the kinetic sculptures Marcel Duchamp would ultimately dub as "mobiles", a French pun meaning both "mobile" and "motive." He designed some of the characters in the circus to perform suspended from a thread. For other sculptures, such as Policeman (1928), Calder transforms the graphic, all-black wire into an elegant series of loops and twists to create an animated figure.[20]

In 1929, Calder had his first solo show of wire sculpture, in Paris at Galerie Billiet. The painter Jules Pascin, a friend of Calder's from the cafes of Montparnasse, wrote the preface to the catalog. A visit to Piet Mondrian's studio in 1930 "shocked" him into embracing abstract art.[21]

It was the mixture of his experiments to develop purely abstract sculpture following his visit with Mondrian that led to his first truly kinetic sculptures, manipulated by means of cranks and pulleys, that would become his signature artworks. Calder’s kinetic sculptures are regarded as being amongst the earliest manifestations of an art that consciously departed from the traditional notion of the art work as a static object and integrated the ideas of motion and change as aesthetic factors.[22]

By the end of 1931, he moved on to more delicate sculptures which derived their motion from the air currents in the room, using cutout shapes reminiscent of natural forms (birds, fish, falling leaves).[23] Dating from 1932, Calder’s first hanging sculptures of discrete movable parts powered by the wind were christened “mobiles” by Marcel Duchamp.[24] They were followed from 1934 by pieces which were set in motion by air currents.[25] At the same time, Calder was also experimenting with self-supporting, static, abstract sculptures, dubbed "stabiles" by Jean Arp in 1932 to differentiate them from mobiles. In 1935-1936 he produced a number of works made largely of carved wood. At Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne (1937) the Spanish pavilion included Alexander Calder's sculpture Mercury Fountain.

During World War II, Calder attempted to join the Marines as a camofleur, but was rejected. He continued to sculpt, adapting to a scarcity of aluminum during the war by returning to carved wood.[26] Calder set about creating new works such as Seven Horizontal Discs (1946), which he was able to dismantle and send by mail despite the stringent size restrictions imposed by the postal service at the time.[27]

Once the war was over, Calder began to cut shapes from sheet metal into evocative forms and would hand-paint them in his characteristically pure hues of black, red, blue, and white.[28] Calder created a small group of works from around this period with a hanging base-plate, for example Lily of Force (1945), Baby Flat Top (1946), and Red is Dominant (1947). His 1946 show at the Galerie Louis Carré in Paris, composed mainly of hanging and standing mobiles, made a huge impact, as did the essays for the catalogue written, at the artist's invitation, by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and curator James Johnson Sweeney.[29] By the late 1950s, Calder produced mobiles almost exclusively for close friends and family.[30]

In 1951, Calder devised a new kind of mobile/stabile combination, related structurally to his constellations. These "towers," affixed to the wall with a nail, consist of wire struts and beams that jut out from the wall, with moving objects suspended from their armatures.[31] After 1965, an intermediate maquette, usually about one-fifth the final size, was often fabricated to test the wind resistance and to refine the structure.[32]

Theatrical productions[edit]

As a renowned artist, part of Calder's repertoire includes pivotal stage sets for more than a dozen theatrical productions. Out of this numerous productions, his noted favorites were: Nuclea, Panorama, Horizon, Socrate, Work in progress.[33] Calder would describe some of his stage sets as dancers performing a choreography due to their rhythmic movement.[33] The production of the Socrate set in 1936 became a decisive moment in Calder's artistic development. Calder described it in these terms: «it serves as an indication of a good deal of my subsequent work».[34] It helped him move from small indoor mobiles to monumental outdoor forms he had just begun experimenting with. He also abandoned motorization for freely moving mobiles.[35]

Monumental works[edit]

Man, a sculpture by Alexander Calder for Expo 67, on Saint Helen's Island Parc Jean-Drapeau, Montréal, Quebec

In the 1930s, the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts gave Calder his first public commission, a pair of mobiles designed for the Museum's new theater.[36] In the 1950s, Calder increasingly concentrated his efforts on producing monumental sculptures (his self-described period of "agrandissements").[37] Notable examples are .125 for JFK Airport in 1957, La Spirale for UNESCO in Paris 1958 and Man (L'Homme), commissioned for Expo 67 in Montreal, Canada. Calder's largest sculpture until that time, 20.5 meters high, was El Sol Rojo, constructed outside the Aztec Stadium for the 1968 Summer Olympics "Cultural Olympiad" events in Mexico City.

In 1934, Calder made his first outdoor works in his Roxbury, Connecticut studio, using the same techniques and materials as his smaller works. Exhibited outside, Calder's initial standing mobiles moved elegantly in the breeze, bobbing and swirling in natural, spontaneous rhythms. In fact, the first few outdoor works were too delicate for strong winds, which forced Calder to rethink his fabrication process.

In 1936, he responded to the problem, changing his working methods. He began to create smaller scale maquettes that he then enlarged to monumental size. The small metal maquette, the first step in the production of a monumental sculpture, was already for Calder a sculpture in its own right. The larger works were made under his direction, using the classic enlargement techniques used in different ways by traditional sculptors, including his father and grandfather. Calder began to draw his designs on brown craft paper, which he enlarged using a grid. His large-scale works were created according to his exact specifications, while also allowing him the liberty to adjust or correct a shape or line if necessary.[38]

La grande vitesse (1969), Grand Rapids, Michigan

He made most of his monumental stabiles and mobiles during this time[when?] at Etablissements Biémont in Tours, France. Calder would create a model of his work, the research department (headed by M. Porcheron, with Alain Roy, François Lopez, Michel Juigner ...) would scale it up to final size, and then experienced boilermakers would complete the actual metalwork — all under Calder's watchful eye. Stabiles were made in carbon steel sheet metal, then painted in black or in primary colors. Some lightweight mobiles were made of aluminum or duralumin alloy. An exception was Man (L'homme), stainless steel 24 meters tall, which was commissioned by International Nickel Company of Canada (Inco).

In 1958, Calder collaborated with Jean Prouvé to construct the steel base of La Spirale, a monumental mobile for the UNESCO site in Paris. (Calder later gave Prouvé two mobiles—as well as a gouache with a dedication.)[39] In June 1969, Calder attended the dedication of his monumental stabile La Grande Vitesse in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This sculpture is notable for being the first civic sculpture in the United States to receive funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.[40]

Calder created a sculpture called WTC Stabile (also known as Bent Propeller), which in 1971 was installed at the entrance of the World Trade Center's North Tower in New York City. When Battery Park City opened, the sculpture was moved to Vesey and Church Streets.[41] The sculpture stood in front of 7 World Trade Center until it was destroyed on September 11, 2001.[42]

In 1974 Calder unveiled to the public two sculptures, Flamingo at Federal Plaza and Universe at Sears Tower,[43] in Chicago, Illinois. The exhibition Alexander Calder: A Retrospective Exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, opened simultaneously with the unveiling of the sculptures.[44] Originally meant to be constructed in 1979 for the Hart Senate Office Building, Mountains and Clouds was not built until 1985 due to government budget cuts. The massive project, constructed of sheet steel and weighing 35 tons, spans the entire nine-story height of the building's atrium in Washington DC. Calder designed the maquette in the last year of his life for the US Senate, and designated his assistant Carmen Segretario to construct the massive stabile.[45]

Painting and printmaking[edit]

In addition to sculptures, Calder painted throughout his career, beginning in the early 1920s. He picked up his study of printmaking after moving to Paris in 1926, and continued to produce illustrations for books and journals.[46] His many projects from this period include pen-and-ink line drawings of animals for a 1931 publication of Aesop’s fables. As Calder’s sculpture moved into the realm of pure abstraction in the mid-1930s, so did his prints. The thin lines used to define figures in the earlier prints and drawings began delineating groups of geometric shapes, often in motion. Calder also used prints for advocacy, as in poster prints from 1967 and 1969 protesting the Vietnam War.[47]

As Calder’s professional reputation expanded in the late 1940s and 1950s, so did his production of prints. Masses of lithographs based on his gouache paintings hit the market, and deluxe editions of plays, poems, and short stories illustrated with fine art prints by Calder became available for sale.[46]

Painted aircraft[edit]

Calder's South American-themed design applied to a Braniff Douglas DC-8-62 taken at Miami Airport in 1975

In 1972, Dallas, Texas, based Braniff International Airways commissioned Calder to paint a full-size Douglas DC-8-62 four engined airliner as a "flying canvas." George Stanley Gordon, founder of the New York City advertising agency Gordon and Shortt, approached Alexander Calder with the idea of painting a jet airliner. Calder responded that he did not paint toys and Gordon told him it was a real full sized airliner that he proposed that Calder paint. Calder immediately gave his approval and George knew that Braniff International, known for melding the worlds of fashion and design with the mysterious world of aviation, would be the perfect company to propose his idea of Calder painting one of their jets. Braniff Chairman Harding Lawrence was highly receptive to the idea and a contract was drawn up that called for the painting of one Douglas DC-8-62 jet liner and 50 gouaches for a total price of $100,000.00.[48]

Models of the aircraft were sent to Calder at his Sache, France, studio in November 1972, and work commenced. Braniff announced the Calder collaboration to the public on June 4, 1973. The new Calder work was dubbed "South America With Flying Colors" to honor Braniff's service to South America, a region it had served since June 4, 1948. This was the first time that an artist had ever painted a jetliner used in regular airline service . Beginning in November 1972, Calder first painted six 1/25 scale Westway 6-foot (1.8 m) long models with unique designs that were inspired by Braniff's service to South America. The model painted with the design called "Humor" was chosen by Braniff to be painted on its Douglas DC-8-62 airliner which was registered as N1805 with the United States Federal Aviation Administration.[49][49]

Painting began at the carrier's Dallas Love Field Operations and Maintenance Base at 7701 Lemmon Avenue, Dallas, Texas, on October 22, 1973. Calder supervised the painting of the aircraft at the Braniff base for a week and personally painted the two left side engine nacelles with two of his designs called "Beastie" and "Sunburst". While at the hangar Calder befriended many of the Braniff Maintenance and Engineering personnel and even painted his unique designs on their lunch pails and toolboxes. At the time, some of the employees did not like the designs but quickly changed their mind once they realized they became owner's of their own Calder masterpieces.[49][50]

In 1975, Calder was commissioned to create a second airplane design, this time a Boeing 727–291, as a tribute to the US Bicentennial celebration. Calder, once again, painted four different designs on 1/25 scale Westway models of the Boeing 727 in various red, white, and blue-themed color schemes. This time a group of noted art curators chose the final design that was painted on the Braniff 727-291 registered as N408BN. Calder arrived at the Dallas Operations and Maintenance Base at the end of October 1975, to oversee the painting, and painted the left and right rear engine nacelles with two designs called "Sneaky Snake" and "Stars and Stripes". First Lady Betty Ford dedicated the special 200th anniversary jet at a special ceremony at Washington Dulles International Airport on November 17, 1975. The jet entered service in late November 1975, flying throughout Braniff's domestic United States and Mexico route system. The engine nacelles were eventually removed from the aircraft and donated to the Whitney Museum of Art in New York City.[49][50]

Calder was working on a third Boeing 727 design for Braniff when he died in November 1976. The Mexico design was painted on several models for Braniff to select from. A dedication ceremony was conducted on February 18–20, 1977, at Acapulco, Mexico, for the "Salute To Mexico" themed aircraft, that included Calder's wife Louisa, who removed the cover over the 1/25 scale Westway model to reveal the new design. The scheme was never applied to any Braniff aircraft for an unknown reason. The Douglas DC-8-62 and Boeing 727-291 designs were removed and painted over, after 1978, in Braniff's new Ultra Color Scheme.[49][50]

Painted automobile[edit]

1975 BMW 3.0 CSL painted by Calder

In 1975, Calder was commissioned to paint a BMW 3.0 CSL, which would be the first vehicle in the BMW Art Car Project.


Calder created 1,800 pieces of jewelry over the course of his career, many of them as gifts for friends and relatives. Several pieces reflect Calder's fascination with art from Africa and other continents.[51] They were mostly made of brass and steel, with bits of ceramic, wood and glass. Calder rarely used solder; when he needed to join strips of metal, he linked them with loops, bound them with snippets of wire or fashioned rivets.[52] Calder created his first pieces in 1906 at the age of eight for his sister's dolls using scraps of metal he found in the street.[51]

For his lifelong friend Joan Miró, he set a shard of a broken porcelain vessel in a brass ring. Peggy Guggenheim received enormous silver mobile earrings and later commissioned a hammered silver headboard that shimmered with dangling fish.[53] In 1942, Guggenheim wore one Calder earring and one by Yves Tanguy to the opening of her New York gallery, The Art of This Century, to demonstrate her equal loyalty to Surrealist and abstract art, examples of which she displayed in separate galleries.[54] Others who were presented with Calder's pieces were the artist's close friend, Georgia O'Keeffe; Alexina Duchamp, wife of Marcel Duchamp; Jeanne Rucar, wife of the filmmaker Luis Buñuel; and Bella Rosenfeld, wife of Marc Chagall.[55]


After being given a Masaya hammock in 1972, Calder commissioned 100 Nicaraguan weavers to make a host of new ones following eight of his own designs, along with a range of wall hangings. A collection of 14 further hand-woven wool tapestries in limited editions then followed.[56]


Calder room at National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Calder's first solo exhibition came in 1927, at the Gallery of Jacques Seligmann in Paris.[57] In 1928, his first solo show in a US commercial gallery was at the Weyhe Gallery in New York City. In 1933, he exhibited with the Abstraction-Création group in Paris.

In 1935, he had his first solo museum exhibition in the United States at The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago. In New York, he was championed from the early 1930s by the Museum of Modern Art, and was one of three Americans to be included in Alfred H. Barr Jr.'s 1936 exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art.[58]

Calder's first retrospective was held in 1938 at George Walter Vincent Smith Gallery in Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1943, the Museum of Modern Art hosted a well-received Calder retrospective, curated by James Johnson Sweeney and Marcel Duchamp; the show had to be extended due to the sheer number of visitors.[59] Calder was one of 250 sculptors who exhibited in the 3rd Sculpture International held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the summer of 1949. His mobile, International Mobile was the centerpiece of the exhibition. Calder also participated in documentas I (1955), II (1959), III (1964).

Since Calder's death, his work has now been the subject of numerous museum exhibitions, including Alexander Calder, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark, 1995 (traveled to: Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Musée d'art moderne, Paris, in 1996); Alexander Calder: 1898-1976, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998 (traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art); Calder: Gravity and Grace, Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, 2003 (traveled to Reina Sofia, Madrid); The Surreal Calder, Menil Collection, Houston, 2005-2006 (traveled to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Minneapolis Institute of Arts); Calder Jewelry, Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, 2008 (traveled to Philadelphia Museum of Art; Metropolitan Museum, New York; Irish Museum of Modern Art; San Diego Museum of Art; Grand Rapids Art Museum); Alexander Calder: The Paris Years, 1926-1933, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2008 (traveled to the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto); Calder, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, 2009–2010; and Alexander Calder: A Balancing Act, Seattle Art Museum, 2009–2010;[60] Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2010, traveled to Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA; Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas; and Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC); Calder’s Portraits: A New Language, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C. (2011); Gemeentemuseum in The Hague (focusing on Calder's relationship with Piet Mondrian) (2012); Calder, Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul (2013); Calder Gallery II, Fondation Beyeler, Riehen (2014); and Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2014).[61]


Calder's work is in many permanent collections across the world. The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, has the largest body of work by Alexander Calder in any museum.[62] Other important museum collections include the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.[60]

The Philadelphia Museum of Art offers a view of works by three generations of Alexander Calders. From the second floor window on the east side of the Great Stair Hall (on the opposite side from the armor collection) there is behind the viewer the Ghost mobile from the 3rd generation (DOB 1898),[63] ahead on the street is the Swann Memorial Fountain by the 2nd generation (DOB 1870), and beyond that the statue of William Penn atop City Hall from the 1st generation (DOB 1846).


In 1952, Calder represented the United States at the Venice Biennale and was awarded the main prize for sculpture. He also won the First Prize for Sculpture at the 1958 Pittsburgh International.[25]

Art market[edit]

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, even as Calder’s international acclaim was growing, his works were still not highly sought after, and when they sold, it was often for relatively little money. A copy of a Pierre Matisse sales ledger in the foundation’s files shows that only a few pieces in the 1941 show found buyers, one of whom, Solomon R. Guggenheim, paid only $233.34 (about $3,500 in 2014 dollars) for a work. The Museum of Modern Art had bought its first Calder in 1934 for $60, after talking Calder down from $100.[26] In 2010, his metal mobile Untitled (Autumn Leaves), sold at Sotheby's New York for $3.7 million. Another mobile, titled Red Curlicue (1973), brought $6.35 million at Christie's later that year.[64] Also at Christie's, a standing mobile called Lily of Force (1945), which was expected to sell for $8 to $12 million, was bought for $18.5 million in 2012.[65] Calder’s 7 1/2-foot-long hanging mobile Poisson volant (Flying Fish) (1957) fetched $25.9 million, setting an auction record for the sculptor at Christie's New York in 2014.[66][67]

Galerie Maeght in Paris became Calder's exclusive Parisian dealer in 1950 and for the rest of Calder's life. After his New York dealer Curt Valentin died unexpectedly in 1954, Calder selected the Perls Gallery in New York as his new American dealer, and this alliance also lasted until the end of his life.[68]


Eagle (1971). Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle, Washington

From 1966 through the present, winners of the National Magazine Awards are awarded an "Ellie", a copper-colored stabile resembling an elephant, which was designed by Calder. Two months after his death, the artist was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor, by President Gerald Ford. However, representatives of the Calder family boycotted the January 10, 1977 ceremony "to make a statement favoring amnesty for Vietnam War draft resisters."

In 1998, the US Postal Service issued a 32 cent stamp honoring Calder.[69]

Calder Foundation[edit]

In 1987, the Calder Foundation was established by Calder's family. The foundation "is dedicated to collecting, exhibiting, preserving, and interpreting the art and archives of Alexander Calder and is charged with an unmatched collection of his works."[70] The foundation has large holdings, with some works owned by family members and others by foundation supporters. The art includes more than 600 sculptures (including mobiles, stabiles, standing mobiles, and wire sculptures), and 22 monumental outdoor works, as well as thousands of oil paintings, works on paper, toys, pieces of jewelry, and household objects.[71] The US copyright representative for the Calder Foundation is the Artists Rights Society.[72]

In 2012, the foundation decided to forgo a catalogue raisonné in favor of an online guide to Calder’s development and history, featuring 4,000 to 6,000 works, roughly one-quarter of the artist’s total output.[73] After having worked mainly on cataloging Calder’s works, the Calder Foundation is now focusing on organizing global exhibitions for the artist.[74]

Authenticity issues[edit]

The Calder Foundation does not authenticate artworks; rather, owners can submit their works for registration in the Foundation's archive and for examination.[73] The committee that performs examinations includes dealers, scholars, museum curators and members of the Calder family.[75] The Calder Foundation's website provides details on the current policies and guidelines governing examination procedures.[76]

In 1993, the owners of Rio Nero (1959), a sheet-metal and steel-wire mobile ostensibly by Calder, went to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia claiming that it was not by Alexander Calder, as the dealer they had bought it from had said.[77] That same year, a federal judge ruled that Rio Nero was authentic, and had just been assembled incorrectly. Despite the decision, the owners of the mobile could not sell it because the recognized expert, Klaus Perls, had declared it a copy. The judge recognized the problem at the time, noting that Perls’ pronouncement would make Rio Nero unsellable. In 1994, the Calder Foundation declined to include the mobile in the catalogue raisonné on the artist.[78]

Referring to the Rio Nero case, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court in 2009 rejected the appeal of an art collector who wished to sell a couple of stage sets that Calder had designed but did not live to see completed, which he had unsuccessfully tried to get the Calder Foundation to authenticate.[79] The court found that it did not have the power to declare the purported Calder work authentic nor to order the Calder Foundation to include it in the catalogue raisonné.

Plans for a Calder Museum[edit]

After similar ideas were developed for New York in 1998,[71] plans for a museum devoted to Calder in Philadelphia were announced in 2000. The proposed 35,000-square-foot Calder museum, designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, was to be located on a two-acre lot. The facility, which was slated for a 2008 opening, would have cost an estimated $70 million.[80] In 2005, the plans were abandoned amid stalled negotiations with the late sculptor's heirs over the terms of lending his works.[81]


  • Dec. 19th, 2014. Famous Artists Send Greeting Cards: An exhibit in New York showcases nearly 60 holiday cards from major artists, The Wall Street Journal. By Alexandra Wolfe.[82]


"How can art be realized?

Out of volumes, motion, spaces bounded by the great space, the universe.

Out of different masses, tight, heavy, middling—indicated by variations of size or color—directional line—vectors which represent speeds, velocities, accelerations, forces, etc. . . .—these directions making between them meaningful angles, and senses, together defining one big conclusion or many.

Spaces, volumes, suggested by the smallest means in contrast to their mass, or even including them, juxtaposed, pierced by vectors, crossed by speeds.

Nothing at all of this is fixed.

Each element able to move, to stir, to oscillate, to come and go in its relationships with the other elements in its universe.

It must not be just a fleeting moment but a physical bond between the varying events in life.

Not extractions,

But abstractions

Abstractions that are like nothing in life except in their manner of reacting."[83]

– From Abstraction-Création, Art Non Figuratif, no. 1, 1932.


Selected works[edit]

  • Dog (1909), folded brass sheet; this was made as a present for Calder's parents
  • The Flying Trapeze (1925), oil on canvas, 36 x 42 in.
  • Elephant (c. 1928), wire and wood, 11½ x 5¾ x 29.2 in.
  • Two Acrobats (ca. 1928), Brass wire, painted wood base, Honolulu Museum of Art
  • Aztec Josephine Baker (c. 1929), wire, 53" x 10" x 9". A representation of Josephine Baker, the exuberant lead dancer from La revue nègre at the Folies Bergère.
  • Untitled (1931), wire, wood and motor; one of the first kinetic mobiles.
  • Feathers (1931), wire, wood and paint; first true mobile, although designed to stand on a desktop
  • Cône d'ébène (Ebony cone), 1933), ebony, metal bar and wire; early suspended mobile (first was made in 1932).
  • Form Against Yellow (1936), sheet metal, wire, plywood, string and paint; wall-supported mobile.
  • Object with Yellow Background (1936), Painted wood, metal, string, Honolulu Museum of Art
  • Mercury Fountain (1937), sheet metal and liquid mercury metal
  • Devil Fish (1937), sheet metal, bolts and paint; first piece made from a model.
  • 1939 New York World's Fair (maquette) (1938), sheet metal, wire, wood, string and paint
  • Necklace (c. 1938), brass wire, glass and mirror
  • Sphere Pierced by Cylinders (1939), wire and paint; the first of many floor standing, life size stabiles (predating Anthony Caro's plinthless sculptures by two decades)
  • Lobster Trap and Fish Tail (1939), sheet metal, wire and paint (suspended mobile); design for the stairwell of the Museum of Modern Art, New York
  • Black Beast (1940), sheet metal, bolts and paint (freestanding plinthless stabile)
  • S-Shaped Vine (1946), sheet metal, wire and paint (suspended mobile)
  • Sword Plant (1947) sheet metal, wire and paint (standing mobile)
  • Snow Flurry (1948), sheet metal, wire and paint (suspended mobile)
  • Stillman House Mural (1952), (pool mural)
  • .125 (1957), steel plate, rods and paint
  • La spirale (1958), steel plate, rod and paint, 360" high; public monumental mobile for Maison de l'UNESCO, Paris
  • Guillotine pour huit (Guillotine for eight), (1962), at the LaM, Villeneuve d'Ascq, France
  • Teodelapio (1962), steel plate and paint, monumental stabile, Spoleto, Italy
  • La Grande Voile (The Big Sail) (1966), a 33-ton metal sculpture composed of five intersecting forms, four planes, and one curve. It stands 40 feet tall, on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • Man (1967) stainless steel plate, bolts and paint, 65' x 83' x 53', monumental stabile, Montreal Canada
  • Gwenfritz (1968) National Museum of American History
  • La grande vitesse (The great speed), (1969), steel plate, bolts and paint, 43' x 55' x 25', Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • World Trade Center Stabile (Bent Propeller), [destroyed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001] 1970-71, 7 World Trade Center, New York City
  • Peau Rouge Indiana (Red Skin Indiana) (1970), steel plate, bolts and paint, 40' x 32' x 33', Bloomington, Indiana
  • Reims, Croix du Sud (Reims, Cross of the South) (1970), at the LaM, Villeneuve d'Ascq, France
  • Eagle (1971), steel plate, bolts and paint, 38'9" x 32'8" x 32'8", Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle, Washington
  • White and Red Boomerang (1971), Painted metal, wire, Honolulu Museum of Art
  • Stegosaurus (1973), steel plate, bolts and paint, 50' tall, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut
  • Cheval Rouge (Red Horse) (1974), red painted sheet metal, at the National Gallery, Washington, D.C.
  • Flamingo (1974), red painted steel, at the Federal Plaza, Chicago, Illinois
  • Universe (1974), motorized "wallmobile," black, red, yellow, and blue painted steel, Willis Tower, Chicago, IL
  • The Red Feather (1975), black and red painted steel, 11' x 6'3" x 11'2", The Kentucky Center
  • Flying Dragon (1975), red painted steel, assumed to be the final stabile personally created by Alexander Calder, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
  • Untitled (1976), aluminum honeycomb, tubing and paint, 358½ x 912", National Gallery of Art Washington, D.C.
  • L'Araignée Rouge (The Red Spider) (1976), 15m tall, monumental sculpture, Paris La Défense France
  • Mountains and Clouds (1976), painted aluminum and steel, 612 inches x 900 inches, Hart Senate Office Building


  1. ^ Award won by Alexander Calder
  2. ^ Hayes, Margaret Calder. Three Alexander Calders: A Family Memoir. Middlebury, VT: Paul S. Eriksson, 1977.
  3. ^ Calder 1966, p. 13.
  4. ^ Calder 1966, p. 15.
  5. ^ "Calder Foundation". Archived from the original on July 24, 2011. Retrieved July 21, 2011. 
  6. ^ Calder 1966, pp. 21–22.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Calder 1966, pp. 28–29.
  9. ^ Hayes, Margaret Calder, Three Alexander Calders: A Family Memoir. Middlebury, VT: Paul S. Eriksson, 1977, p. 41.
  10. ^ Calder 1966, p. 31
  11. ^ "Panama Pacific International Exposition". 
  12. ^ a b Petroski, Henry (September–October 2012). Schoonmaker, David, ed. "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Engineer". American Scientist (New Haven, Connecticut: Sigma Xi) 100 (5): 368–373. ISSN 0003-0996. OCLC 645082957. 
  13. ^ a b "My Way, Calder in Paris". Seymour I Toll. 
  14. ^ Calder 1966, p. 47.
  15. ^ "Calder Biography". Calder Foundation. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved July 31, 2011. 
  16. ^ Calder 1966, pp. 54–55.
  17. ^ Calder Guggenheim Collection.
  18. ^ Calder in India, 31 May – 3 August 2012 Ordovas, London.
  19. ^
  20. ^ Alexander Calder, Policeman (1928) Christie's Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 14 November 2012, New York.
  21. ^ "Alexander Calder: The Great Discovery". Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. Retrieved 2012-04-08. 
  22. ^ Alexander Calder Fondation Beyeler, Riehen.
  23. ^ Alexander Calder, Ghost (1964) Philadelphia Museum of Art.
  24. ^ Alexander Calder, Romulus and Remus (1928) Guggenheim Collection.
  25. ^ a b Alexander Calder Tate Collection.
  26. ^ a b Randy Kennedy (October 18, 2011), A Year in the Work of Calder New York Times.
  27. ^ Alexander Calder, Seven Horizontal Discs (1946) Christie's Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale, 8 November 2011, New York.
  28. ^ Alexander Calder, Untitled (1948) Christie's Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale, 10 November 2010, New York.
  29. ^ Alexander Calder, Lily of Force (1945) Christie's Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale, 8 May 2012, New York.
  30. ^ Alexander Calder, Untitled (1958) Christie's Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 14 November 2012, New York.
  31. ^ Calder. Gravity and Grace, March 18, 2003 - October 07, 2003 Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.
  32. ^ Alexander Calder National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
  33. ^ a b Calder's Universe P.172
  34. ^ “Mobiles” by Alexander Calder, in The Painter’s Object, edited by Myfanwy Evans (London: Gerold Howe, 1937), 62–67.
  35. ^ Ruth Wolf testimonial
  36. ^ Alexander Calder: An Artist at Play Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield.
  37. ^ Alexander Calder, Le Rouge de Saché (1954) Christie's Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale, 8 May 2012, New York.
  38. ^ Alexander Calder, Red Curlicue (1973) Christie's Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale, 10 November 2010, New York.
  39. ^ Calder, Prouvé, June 8 - November 2, 2013 Gagosian Gallery, Paris.
  40. ^ "Initial Public Art Project Becomes a Landmark". 40th Anniversary Highlights. National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved 20 June 2013. 
  41. ^ Wenegrat, Saul (February 28, 2002). "Public Art at the World Trade Center". International Foundation for Art Research. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved July 27, 2007. 
  42. ^ Lives and Treasures Taken, The Library of Congress Retrieved 27 July 2007.
  43. ^ Cynthia Dizikes (October 04, 2010), Lawsuit: Sears wants Willis Tower artwork back Chicago Tribune.
  44. ^ "History of the MCA". Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved August 7, 2011. 
  45. ^ Alexander Calder, Mountains and Clouds (1985) Christie's Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 14 November 2012, New York.
  46. ^ a b Alexander Calder: Printmaker, October 30, 2009 - January 31, 2010 Bruce Museum, Greenwich, CT.
  47. ^ Bejamin Genocchio (December 18, 2009) Beyond the Mobiles New York Times.
  48. ^ Gordon, George Stanley. "My Pal, Alexander Calder". Retrieved 22 July 2014. 
  49. ^ a b c d e Zahrt, Martha Leonard Pat (November–December 1973). "Flying Colors Hailed as Soaring Success". Braniff B Liner Employee Newsletter 25 (9): 1, 4. 
  50. ^ a b c Nance, John J (1984). Splash of Colors The Self Destruction of Braniff International. New York: William and Morrow Company. p. 78. ISBN 0-688-03586-8. 
  51. ^ a b Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan (December 11, 2008), The Intimate Side of Alexander Calder Wall Street Journal.
  52. ^ Karen Rosenberg (December 11, 2008), Calder’s Precious Metals: Who Needs Diamonds? New York Times.
  53. ^ Carol Kino (December 2, 2007), Precious Metals New York Times.
  54. ^ Roberta Smith (May 13, 2010), Shedding New Light on Old Friends New York Times.
  55. ^ Calder Jewelry The San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego.
  56. ^ Amelia Walsh (September 28, 2012), Hand-made in Guatemala, custom-made in France Financial Times.
  57. ^ Alexander Calder L&M Arts, New York/Los Angeles.
  58. ^ Roberta Smith (March 27, 1998) All Calder, High and Low New York Times.
  59. ^ Alexander Calder, Seven Horizontal Discs (1946) Christie's Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale, 8 November 2011, New York.
  60. ^ a b Alexander Calder, February 8 - March 26, 2011 Gagosian Gallery, London.
  61. ^ Alexander Calder: Gouaches, May 8 - June 14, 2014 Gagosian Gallery, New York.
  62. ^ Alexander Calder: The Paris Years, 1926–1933, October 16, 2008 – February 15, 2009 Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
  63. ^ "Ghost". Philadelphia Museum of Art. Retrieved February 7, 2012. 
  64. ^ Souren Melikian (November 11, 2010), At Christie's, Mockery Brings in Millions New York Times.
  65. ^ Carol Vogel (May 8, 2012), Record Sales for a Rothko and Other Art at Christie’s New York Times.
  66. ^ Carol Vogel (May 14, 2014), Asian Collectors Give Christie’s a High-Yield Night New York Times.
  67. ^ Katya Kazakina (May 14, 2014), Billionaires Help Christie’s to Record $745 Million Sale Bloomberg.
  68. ^ Alexander Calder - Biography Calder Foundation.
  69. ^ "Stamp Series". United States Postal Service. Retrieved Sep 2, 2013. 
  70. ^ "Calder Foundation website: Trustees page". Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved July 21, 2011. 
  71. ^ a b Carol Vogel (October 2, 1998) Calder Works On the Move New York Times.
  72. ^ "Calder Foundation website: Copyright and Disclaimers page". Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved July 21, 2011. 
  73. ^ a b Patricia Cohen (June 19, 2012), In Art, Freedom of Expression Doesn’t Extend to ‘Is It Real?’, New York Times.
  74. ^ Jacob Hale Russell (July 29, 2006), Look Who’s Selling --- Once-quiet artists’ foundations are becoming power players, The Wall Street Journal.
  75. ^ Daniel Grant (September 29, 1996), The tricky art of authentication Baltimore Sun.
  76. ^
  77. ^ Stuart Jeffries (March 13, 2003), Cover up The Guardian.
  78. ^ Barbara Mathes Gallery records pertaining to "Rio Nero" lawsuit, 1989-1995 Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.
  79. ^ Patricia Cohen (August 5, 2012), Ruling on Artistic Authenticity: The Market vs. the Law, New York Times.
  80. ^ Scott Timberg (September 15, 2005), Impasse apparently scuttles Philadelphia's Calder project Los Angeles Times.
  81. ^ Joann Loviglio (2005), Philadelphia Calder Museum Plans Cancelled ARTINFO.
  82. ^ "Famous Artists Send Greeting Cards". MutualArt. Retrieved 2015-01-13. 
  83. ^ Alexander Calder, "Comment réaliser l'art?" from Abstraction-Création, Art Non Figuratif, no. 1, 1932


External links[edit]