Alexander Calder

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Alexander Calder, 1947.
photo of Alexander Calder, installing one of his standing mobiles in an exhibition, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, 1969

Alexander Calder (August 22, 1898 – November 11, 1976) was an American sculptor known as the originator of the mobile, a type of Kinetic art made with delicately balanced or suspended components which move in response to motor power or air currents.

Quotes of Alexander Calder[edit]

sorted chronologically, by date of the quotes of Alexander Calder
Calder, c. 1932: 'Mobile in metal, wood, wire and string sculpture', in Tate Modern; - quote of Calder, 1934: 'Each element able to move, to stir, to oscillate, to come and go in its relationships with the other elements in its universe'
Calder, 1936: 'T and Swallow', wood and steel sculpture
Calder, 1936: 'Red Panel', plywood, sheet metal, tubing, wire, string, and paint - a moving object
Calder, 1939: 'Hollow Egg', metallic wire sculpture
Calder, 1940: 'bracelet in copper'
Calder, 1941: 'Untitled' a detail; (Pittsburgh, PA)
photo (1947): Willem Sandberg looking at Calder's mobiles in Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Calder, 1953: 'L'empennage / The Empennage', metallic sculpture/mobile
Calder, 1954: 'Acoustic Clouds'; - quote of Calder, 1962: 'What I like best is the acoustic ceiling in Caracas, in the auditorium of the university.. .It's made from great panels of plywood - some thirty feet long - more or less horizontal and tilted to reflect sound.'
Calder, 1956: 'Red mobile', painted sheet and metal rods
Calder 1958: 'The Dog / De Hond', steel sculpture
Calder, 1965: 'Têtes et Queue', steel sculpture
Calder, 1969: a standing mobile, in Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Calder 1969: 'Grand Rapid / Grande Vitesse', a later 2-dimensional reconstruction of the original sculpture of Calder
Calder 1974: 'Carmen', mobile

1920s[edit]

  • 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.
    • Quote in his autobiography (1922); as cited in 'Calder' 1966, pp. 54–55; as quoted on Wikipedia: Alexander Calder
    • In June 1922, Calder found work as a mechanic on the passenger ship H. F. Alexander. Calder slept on deck and awoke one early morning off the Guatemalan Coast; he saw both the sun rising and the full moon setting on opposite horizons

'Statement on Wire Sculpture' (1929)[edit]

Quotes of Calder, from: 'Statement on Wire Sculpture', Alexander Calder (January/February 1929); an unpublished text MS, Calder Foundation archives, New York
  • In the Spring of 1926 I made some toy animals of curtain rods, broom handles, etc., and wire. Later, a few dolls, which I animated.. ..in the winter of 1927–1928 I made some more toys for a friend to take home as gifts, and having shown them to De Creeft a Spanish sculptor with a very acute sense of humor, I was urged by him to make some more toys and to expose them at the Salon des Humoristes. I did this and then began to make more elaborate toys, with articulation, in which the movements got more and more realistic, always adhering to the same basic materials. In this way I have developed quite an elaborate circus [ fr:Cirque Calder ] of which animation is one of the chief characteristics.
  • At that time (last spring) [U.S., 1928] I did not consider this medium to be of any signal importance in the world of art; merely a very amusing stunt cleverly executed.. ..however, wishing to return to Paris, I felt it would be quite justifiable to have an exhibition here, where "clever stunts" are highly appreciated, so I came over 3 months ago and set to work, carving wood and twisting wire. These new studies in wire, however, did not remain the simple modest little things I had done in New York. They are still simple, more simple than before; and therein lie the great possibilities which I have only recently come to feel for the wire medium.
  • Before, the wire studies were subjective, portraits, caricatures, stylized representations of beasts and humans. But these recent things have been viewed from a more objective angle and although their present size is diminutive, I feel that there is no limitation to the scale to which they can be enlarged.. .One of the canons of the futuristic painters, as propounded by Modigliani, was that objects behind other objects should not be lost to view, but should be shown through the others by making the latter transparent. The wire sculpture accomplishes this in a most decided manner.

1930s - 1950s[edit]

  • [to Mondrian:] Maybe you should take all these red, yellow and blue elements off the canvas and let them hang in the air, so they can move. [Mondrian reacted: 'Well, I think my paintings are fast enough already..'
    • Quote (1930), from a studio-visit at Mondrian's place in Paris, as cited by by Mondrian's recent biographer Hans Janssen, of the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague; as cited by Alastair Sooke, in 'Mondrian - the Joy of Being Square'; BBC culture, 10 July 2017
  • 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.
  • Quotes of Calder (1932), from Abstraction-Création, Art Non Figuratif, no. 1, 1932; Republished in: Alexander Calder, A. S. C. Rower, Ugo Mulas, Pier Giovanni Castagnoli, Palazzo delle esposizioni (Rome, Italy) Calder: Sculptor of Air, Motta, 2009. p. 111 & p. 222
  • We notice the movement of automobiles and other beings in the street, but we do not notice that the turning of the earth. We believe that automobiles go at a great speed on a fixed ground; yet the speed of the earth's rotation at the equator is 40,000 km every 24 hours.
    As truly serious art must follow the greater laws, and not only appearance, I try to put all the elements in motion in my mobile sculptures. It is a matter of harmonizing these movements, thus arriving at a new possibility for beauty.
  • Wire, rods, sheet metal have strength, even in very attenuated forms, and respond quickly to whatever sort of work one may subject them to. Contrasts in mass or weight are feasible, too, according to the gauge, or to the kind of metal used, so that physical laws, as well as aesthetic concepts, can be held to. There is of course a close alliance between physics and aesthetics.

'Statement from Modern Painting and Sculpture', (1933)[edit]

Quotes of Calder, from: 'Statement from Modern Painting and Sculpture', Alexander Calder (August, 1933); Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield Massachusetts
  • The sense of motion in painting and sculpture has long been considered as one of the primary elements of the composition.
  • Marcel Duchamp's 'Nude descending the stairs' is the result of the desire for motion. Here he has also eliminated representative form. This avoids the connotation of ideas which would interfere with the success of the main issue - the sense of movement.
  • Therefore, why not plastic forms in motion?. ..one can compose motions.
  • The two motor driven "mobiles" which I am exhibiting [August, 1933] are from among the more successful of my earliest attempts at plastic objects in motion. The orbits are all circular arcs or circles. The supports have been painted to disappear against a white background to leave nothing but the moving elements..
  • ..the elimination of other things which are not essential will make for a stronger result.

1950s - 1960s[edit]

  • My entrance into the field of abstract art came about as the result of a visit to the studio of Piet Mondrian in Paris in 1930.
    I was particularly impressed by some rectangles of color he had tacked on his wall in a pattern after his nature.
    I told him I would like to make them [Mondrian's flat painting] oscillate, he objected. I went home and tried to paint abstractly - but in two weeks I was back again among plastic materials.
    I think that at that time and practically ever since, the underlying sense of form in my work has been the system of the Universe, or part thereof. For that is a rather large model to work from.
    • Quote (1951), in 'What Abstract Art Means to Me', George L. K. Morris, Willem De Kooning, Alexander Calder, Fritz Glarner, Robert Motherwell, Stuart Davis; as cited in the The Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art, Vol. 18, No. 3, (Spring, 1951), pp. 2-15
  • I started [in Paris, 1920's, making toys] right away, using wire as my main material as well as working with others like string, leather, fabric and wood. Wood combined with wire (with which I could make the heads, tails and feet of animals as well as articulating parts) was almost always my medium of choice. One friend of mine suggested that I should make bodies entirely of wire, and that is how I started to make what I called 'Wire Sculpture'. In Montparnasse, I became known as the 'King of Wire'.
    • Quote of Alexander Calder (1952), looking back, from Permanence Du Cirque, in 'Revue Neuf', Calder Foundation, 1952; as quoted in Calder and Mondrian: An Unlikely Kinship, senior-thesis by Eva Yonas, Ohio State University August 2006, Department of Art History, p.19 – note 26
    • Calder first began using wire extensively in 1926, creating mechanical toys that would be the precursors to the Paris' 'Cirque Calder'
  • It happens that all those who have something of mine, painting, mobile, or static statue, say that it makes them very happy. For example, children adore mobile statues and understand their meaning immediately. I have seen children, here in France, in America or in Great Britain, run and shout with joy in my exhibitions. They like it instinctively.
    • Calder, quoted in Calder: Gravity and Grace, eds. Giménez, Carmen, and Alexander S.C. Rower; Phaidon Press, New York 2004, p. 54

'interview with Alexander Calder', (1962)[edit]

Quotes from: Katherine Kuh, in interview with Alexander Calder, c. 1962, from 'The Artist's Voice: Talks with Seventeen Artists, Harper & Row, New York and Evanston, Illinois, 1962
  • I haven't really touched machinery except for a few elementary mechanisms like levers and balances. You see nature and then you try to emulate it. But, of course, when I met Mondrian [Paris, 1930] I went home and tried to paint [for a while]. The basis of everything for me is the universe. The simplest forms in the universe are the sphere and the circle. I represent them by disks and then I vary them. My whole theory about art is the disparity that exists between form, masses and movement. Even my triangles are spheres, but they are spheres of a different shape.
    • Question, Which has influenced you more, nature or modern machinery?
  • You put a disk here and then you put another disk that is a triangle at the other end and then you balance them on your finger and keep on adding. I don't use rectangles - they stop. You can use them; I have at times, but only when I want to block, to constipate movement.
    • Question, How do you get that subtle balance in your work?
  • Duchamp named the mobiles and Arp the stabiles. Arp said, "What did you call those things you exhibited last year? Stabiles?"
    • Question, Is it true that Marcel Duchamp invented the name “mobile” for your work?
  • The mobiles started when I went to see [[w:Piet Mondrian|Mondrian [in Paris, 1930]. I was impressed by several colored rectangles he had on the wall. Shortly after that I made some mobiles.
    • Question, How did the mobiles start?
  • I've made so many mobiles that I pretty well know what I want to do, at least where the smaller ones are concerned. But when I'm seeking a new form, then I draw and make little models out of sheet metal. Actually the one at Idlewild [Airport (in the International Arrival Building)] is forty-five feet long and was made from a model only seventeen inches long. For the very big ones I don't have machinery large enough, so I go to a shop and become the workman's helper.
    • Question, Do you make preliminary sketches?
  • Yes, I think I am a realist. Because I make what I see. It's only the problem of seeing it. If you can imagine a thing, conjure it up in space - then you can make it, and tout de suite you're a realist. The universe is real but you can't see it. You have to imagine it. Once you imagine it, you can be realistic about reproducing it.
    • Question, Léger once called you a realist. How do you feel about this?
  • What I like best is the acoustic ceiling in Caracas, in the auditorium of the university [Central University of Venezuela]. It's made from great panels of plywood - some thirty feet long - more or less horizontal and tilted to reflect sound. I also like the work I did for UNESCO in Paris and the mobile called 'Little Blue under Red' that belongs to the Fogg. That one develops hypocycloidal and epicycloidal curves. The main problem there was to keep all the parts light enough to work.
    • Question, Are there any specific works that you prefer and would like to have reproduced?

Quotes about Alexander Calder[edit]

sorted chronologically, by date of the quotes about Alexander Calder
  • The evolution of Calder's work epitomizes the evolution of plastic art in the present [20th] century.. .First we have a reduction of volumes to contour lines - a sort of spatial calligraphy in wire.. .Then a growing interest in the bases of plastic organization - texture contrasts, primary colors, simple rhythms. Finally a new fusion of these elements into forms.. .And it is in the ability to effect this fusion that Calder's quality lies.. .Tatlin's and Obmochu's constructions remained architecture and machines. Calder personalizes his 'mobiles' with a lyricism entirely his own - a freshness, gaiety and charm.
  • into the plastic expression of the period he has introduced a new element - that of time. In several of his mobiles he has, as it were, underscored certain suggested compositional rhythms by actual kinetic ones. And here his work offers an interesting parallel with that of the fountain sculptors, of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Rome and Florence. Just as out of their playing with water and their free and often fanciful solutions of technical problems, grew what we recognize today as some of the earliest hints of the baroque style in sculpture; so Calder's realizations, vividly vernacular to the present age as they are, offer, at the same time, more probabilities of relationship with the plastic expression of the next, than does the work of any other American sculptor today.
  • It was only a step further for Calder to bring back actual movement in place of the suggestions of it [in art]. And the immediacy of this stimulus carried with it a primitive strength of rhythmic evocation that is perhaps Calder's most striking contribution. But a still more personal and perhaps more important one lies in his recognition of another feature of natural movements - their unpredictable character and the aesthetic possibilities of the unexpected.. .Calder in adapting the natural rhythms also recognized the dramatic value of the surprise element.
  • ..most of Calder's constructions are not imitative of nature; I know no less deceptive art than his. Sculpture suggests movement, painting suggests depth or light. A "mobile" does not "suggest" anything: it captures genuine living movements and shapes them. "Mobiles" have no meaning, make you think of nothing but themselves. They are, that is all; they are absolutes. There is more of the unpredictable about them than in any other human creation. No human brain, not even their creator's, could possibly foresee all the complex combinations of which they are capable. A general destiny of movement is sketched for them, and then they are left to work it out for themselves. What they may do at a given moment will be determined by the time of day, the sun, the temperature or the wind..
  • I was talking with Calder one day in his studio [in Paris] when suddenly a "mobile" beside me, which until then had been quiet, became violently agitated. I stepped quickly back; thinking to be out of its reach. But then, when the agitation had ceased and it appeared to have relapsed into quiescence, its long, majestic tail, which until then had not budged, began mournfully to wave, and, sweeping through the air, brushed across my face. These hesitations, resumptions, gropings, clumsiness's, the sudden decisions and above all that swan-like grace make of certain "mobiles" very strange creatures indeed, something midway between matter and life. At moments they seem endowed with an intention; a moment later they appear to have forgotten what they intended to do, and finish by merely swaying inanely..
  • I fled, a fortunate fugitive, / Lying with the work of one alive / The day and the night unfurled in the presence / of mobile wings - algae - leaves. / Greetings forger of gigantic dragonflies / Diviner of mercury your fountain revealed / A water heavy as tears.
    But a carousel of little crimson moons thrills me / It brings to mind a translucent circus / It is a leaf traversed by the sun. / One green day you saw a red bird / in pursuit of a yellow bird; you [Calder] know that we are bound to nature / that we belong to the earth.
  • I knew metal working before I knew Calder, and Calder is one of our great men and he is earlier by a few years than any of the rest of us [in American Abstract Expressionism ]. Calder had worked in Paris quite a bit in the early days, though he did go to school here in New York at the Art Students League.. .After my first year in college I had worked on the assembly line in the Studebaker plants up in Indiana..
    • David Smith (1960), in an interview with David Sylvester, edited for BBC broadcasting: first published in 'Living Arts', April 1964; as quoted in Interviews with American Artists, by David Sylvester; Chatto & Windus, London 2001, p. 10
  • Such artists [as Calder] design with 'movement itself' as distinct from a movement which is incidental or accessory.. ..without changing the form. Their movement is as intrinsic as that of a gramophone record or an airplane in flight; without it the object would be something else.
    • Quote by George W Rickey (1963), in 'The Morphology of Movement: A Study of Kinetic Art.' Art Journal, Vol. 22, No. 4. (Summer, 1963), p. 224

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