The Man who Made Sculpture Move

Watch this video of a mobile sculpture by the the renowned American artist, Alexander Calder (1898-1945). At over 14 feet in length when all its elements are aligned, Polychrome from One to Eight (1962) is ever-changing and constantly interacts with the surroundings.

Over an international career that spanned half a century, Alexander Calder (1898-1945) became famous as the American who made sculpture move. During his lifetime Calder created over 22,000 works and exhibited on five continents. While he is best known for his invention of the mobile sculpture, he also worked in an astonishing array of media, including drawings, sculptures, paintings, design (for toys, fountains, textiles, the exterior of airplanes and cars, posters) as well as stage sets and props for dance and music performances.

As a trained mechanical engineer, Calder employed the language of science to evoke a parallel, deeply poetic universe of forms activated by gravity and wind currents. Beginning with the smallest unit, he would construct a mobile through a process of weights and balances. “A general destiny of movement is sketched for them, and then they are left to work it out for themselves: – was how the French philosopher described Caldor’s mobiles. The titles of Caldor’s works confirm their association with the natural world: for example, Sumac V, a wedding present from Calder to the eminent art dealer Adrien Paul Maegt, suggests the reddened autumnal leaves of the sumac tree.

Sumac 17, hanging mobile, sheet metal, wire and paint, 106 x 192 x 100 cm. Executed in 1955.

Many of Calder’s mobiles grace public spaces, including the Guggenheim Museum, New York and the Foundation Maeght in southeast France, a beautiful setting for one of Europe’s largest collection of 20th-century art.

Red Lily Pads, 1956, sheet metal, metal rods, paint 107 x 511 x 277 cm Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Feathers, 1953, stable mobile, painted metal, 150 x 284 cm. Foundation Maeght, France.

But there was a serious side to Calder. The sharp points of the looming black construction, Reinforcements (Les Renforts, 1963) on the lawn of the Foundation Maeght is a salutary reminder that earthly paradise isn’t immune to pain and suffering.

Les Renforts (Reinforcements), 1963, painted metal, 630 x 500 cm. Foundation Maeght, France.
Calder in Paris with 21 Calder 21 Feuilles Blanches (1953), 1954 Black and white photograph Calder Foundation, New York.

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