Leave feedback
Loading search results
About us
The Art Story Homepage 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

"The next step in sculpture is motion."

Alexander Calder Signature

Summary of Alexander Calder

American artist Alexander Calder redefined sculpture by introducing the element of movement, first through 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).

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 Google 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 Google 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 Google 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:

Arc of Petals (1941) Devil Fish (1937) Man (1967)

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
Show influences

Artists

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

Movements

CubismCubism
ConstructivismConstructivism
FuturismFuturism
Neo-PlasticismNeo-Plasticism
SurrealismSurrealism
Influences on Artist
Influences on Artist
Alexander Calder
Alexander Calder
Years Worked: 1923 - 1976
Influenced by Artist
Influenced by Artist

Artists

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

Movements

SurrealismSurrealism
Kinetic ArtKinetic Art
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Pop ArtPop Art

If you see an error or typo, please:
tell us
Cite this page

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
Available from:
First published on 01 Sep 2012. Updated and modified regularly. Information
[Accessed ]