Artists & Designers

Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

Informed by the most important art movements in early 20th-century Europe, Alexander Calder's work has always been greatly inspired by the rhythms and movements of nature. Liberating sculpture from its pedestal, Calder revolutionized the medium and introduced motion into modern art.

Born in Philadelphia in 1898, Calder's early interests and training were in the field of engineering, even though his father was a sculptor and his mother was a painter. Formally trained as a mechanical engineer, Calder turned to art in 1923, at the age of 25. Enrolled in the Art Students League, New York, he studied under Ashcan painters, George Luks and John Sloan. Two years later he accepted a freelance assignment that proved a turning-point in his life: for weeks, he sketched the people and animals at the Ringling Brothers' Barnum and Bailey circus. In 1927, using bits of wire, string, cloth, yarn, and wood, he began to translate his sketches into a miniature circus. Later, in Paris, he gave "performances" of it accompanied by recorded music for a group of intellectuals and artists, many of whom — Arp, Léger, Miró, and Mondrian — became lifelong friends.

In the early 1930s, Calder took up abstraction and the use of primary colors. He produced his first mobile, so named by Marcel Duchamp, after a visit to Piet Mondrian's studio in 1930. Calder said he wanted to make Mondrian's colored rectangles oscillate. His first abstract, geometrical constructions moved by electric motors or hand cranks. Dissatisfied, he then turned to balanced, hanging structures moved by random currents of air. In 1932, he began creating stationary sculptures that imply movement, which Jean Arp called stabiles. In the 1950s, Calder exhibited widely and won the Grand Prize for sculpture at the 1952 Venice Biennale. In his lifetime Calder executed numerous major public commissions and had major exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1976), and the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao (2003). He died on November 11, 1976, in New York.

Adapted from

  • Suzanne Weaver, "Flower," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Charles Venable (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1997), 272.

  • DMA unpublished material, Label text [1949.13], 1973.

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