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Artists Alexander Calder
Alexander Calder Photo

Alexander Calder

American Sculptor

Movements and Styles: Surrealism, Kinetic Art

Born: July 22, 1898 - Lawnton, Pennsylvania

Died: November 11, 1976 - New York, New York, USA

Alexander Calder Timeline


"People think monuments should come out of the ground, never out of the ceiling, but mobiles too can be monumental."
Alexander Calder
"Why must art be static?"
Alexander Calder
"Just as one can compose colors, or forms, so one can compose motions."
Alexander Calder
"My whole theory about art is the disparity that exists between form, masses and movement."
Alexander Calder
"The underlying sense of form in my work has been the system of the Universe, or part thereof...What I mean is that the idea of detached bodies floating in space, of different sizes and densities, perhaps of different colors and temperatures, and surrounded and interlarded with wisps of gaseous condition, and some at rest, while others move in peculiar manners, seems to me the ideal source of form."
Alexander Calder

"The next step in sculpture is motion."

Alexander Calder Signature


American artist Alexander Calder redefined sculpture by introducing the element of movement, first though performances of his mechanical Calder's Circus and later with motorized works, and, finally, with hanging works called "mobiles." In addition to his abstract mobiles, Calder also created static sculptures, called "stabiles," as well as paintings, jewelry, theater sets, and costumes.

Key Ideas

Many artists made contour line drawings on paper, but Calder was the first to use wire to create three-dimensional line "drawings" of people, animals, and objects. These "linear sculptures" introduced line into sculpture as an element unto itself.
Calder shifted from figurative linear sculptures in wire to abstract forms in motion by creating the first mobiles. Composed of pivoting lengths of wire counterbalanced with thin metal fins, the appearance of the entire piece was randomly arranged and rearranged in space by chance simply by the air moving the individual parts.


Alexander Calder Photo


Alexander Calder, known as Sandy, was born into a long line of sculptors, being part of the fourth generation to take up the art form. Constructing objects from a very young age, his first known art tool was a pair of pliers. At eight, Calder was creating jewelry for his sister's dolls from beads and copper wire. Over the next few years, as his family moved to Pasadena, Philadelphia, New York, and San Francisco, he crafted small animal figures and game boards from scavenged wood and brass. Calder's interest initially led not to art, but to mechanical engineering and applied kinetics, which he studied at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey (1915-1919).

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Alexander Calder Biography Continues

Important Art by Alexander Calder

The below artworks are the most important by Alexander Calder - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Calder's Circus (1926-1931)
Artwork Images

Calder's Circus (1926-1931)

Artwork description & Analysis: In this work Calder experimented with setting a large collection of miniature acrobats, animals, and other figures in motion using springs and pulleys. Calder's Circus exemplified the playful wit that infused much of Calder's subsequent work. Three films were made of Calder's Circus performances, but the work's significance is that it is one of the earliest modern works in which the artist is equally involved as both a "maker" and a performer.

Mixed media: wire, wood, metal, cloth, yarn, paper, cardboard, leather, string, rubber tubing, corks, buttons, rhinestones, pipe cleaners, bottle caps - Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York

Josephine Baker (III) (c. 1927)
Artwork Images

Josephine Baker (III) (c. 1927)

Artwork description & Analysis: Calder's illustrations for the National Police Gazette were often made of single, continuous lines. He learned this technique in mechanical drawing classes at the Art Students League. In 1925, Calder was the first to extend this line drawing approach into three dimensions. He soon began creating figurative and portrait sculptures using only wire to "draw in space." His several sculptures of dancer Josephine Baker were his earliest works in this direction. These artworks were important in furthering both his career-long use of wire and his interest in open-space sculpture.

Steel wire - Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York

A Universe (1934)
Artwork Images

A Universe (1934)

Artwork description & Analysis: In the early 1930s Calder's desire to create abstract paintings that moved through space led to motorized works such as A Universe, in which the two spherical shapes traveled at different rates during a 40-minute cycle. Interested in astronomy, he compared his works' discrete moving parts to the solar system. These works were an important step towards his non-motorized mobiles, as well as forerunners to his Constellation series of the 1940s.

Painted iron pipe, steel wire, motor, and wood with string - Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York

More Alexander Calder Artwork and Analysis:

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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Alexander Calder
Interactive chart with Alexander Calder's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart


Hans ArpHans Arp
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Joan MiróJoan Miró
Piet MondrianPiet Mondrian

Personal Contacts

Marcel DuchampMarcel Duchamp
Fernand LégerFernand Léger
Man RayMan Ray
Isamu NoguchiIsamu Noguchi
James Johnson SweeneyJames Johnson Sweeney



Influences on Artist
Alexander Calder
Alexander Calder
Years Worked: 1923 - 1976
Influenced by Artist


George RickeyGeorge Rickey
John CageJohn Cage
Mark di SuveroMark di Suvero
Ellsworth KellyEllsworth Kelly
Claes OldenburgClaes Oldenburg

Personal Contacts

Marcel DuchampMarcel Duchamp
Georgia O'KeeffeGeorgia O'Keeffe
Jules PascinJules Pascin
Jean-Paul SartreJean-Paul Sartre


Kinetic ArtKinetic Art
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Pop ArtPop Art

Useful Resources on Alexander Calder







The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Alexander Calder and His Magical Mobiles

By Jean Lipman

The Essential Alexander Calder Recomended resource

By Howard Greenfeld

written by artist

Calder: An Autobiography with Pictures

By Alexander Calder

More Interesting Books about Alexander Calder
Calder at Play: Finding Whimsy in Simple Wire Recomended resource

By Holland Cotter
The New York Times
October 16, 2008

From a Big Imagination, a Tiny Circus Recomended resource

By Kathryn Shattuck
The New York Times
October 10, 2008

The Merry Modernist

By Robert Hughes
May 4, 1998

All Calder, High and Low

By Roberta Smith
The New York Times
March 27, 1998

More Interesting Articles about Alexander Calder
NPR - July 22, 2008 Recomended resource

About Jewelry exhibition at Philadelphia Museum of Art

NPR - August 15, 2001

About sculpture Retrospective at Storm King Art Center in New York

Alexander Calder performs his "Circus" - 1955 Recomended resource

Calder Le Cirque - 1961

Calder performs his Circus

Charlie Rose - June 10, 1998

Discussion about Calder

Alexander Calder Jewelry Exhibit - Oct 14, 2008

Exhibition tour at Philadelphia Museum of Art


Smithsonian Archives of American Art - 1971

Oral History interview with Calder

public art

Calder's Pittsburg Airport Controversy Recomended resource

Pittsburgh City Paper
October 23, 2003
By Chris Potter

Le Guichet (The Ticket Window) (1963)

New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center
New York, NY

More Interesting Resources about Alexander Calder
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Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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