Calder, Alexander

Calder, Alexander kôl´dər [key], 1898–1976, American sculptor, b. Philadelphia; son of Alexander Stirling Calder and grandson of Alexander Mine Calder, prominent sculptors. Among the most innovative of modern sculptors, he trained as a mechanical engineer and studied at New York's Art Students League. In 1926 Calder went to Paris where he was influenced by the geometric purity and primary colors of Mondrian 's art and by Miró 's biomorphic forms. There he created his colorful, charming, complex, and kinetic wire and collage miniature circus, with dozens of figures manipulated by hand (1926–31; Whitney Mus., New York City), which established his reputation with the French avant garde. In 1932 he exhibited the first of his brightly colored constellations called mobiles , consisting of painted geometric shapes connected by wires and set in motion by motors or by the movement of the air. The earliest examples were mainly wood. After his return to New York in the mid-1930s and particularly during the early 40s, he created the classic mobiles, works both delicate and tough, for which he is best known: geometric shapes, sometimes fish forms, each a different color, connected by curved wires and made of painted sheet metal that glides with the air. These elegant, often playful inventions, his witty wire portraits, his imaginative jewelry, and his immobile metal sculptures known as stabiles brought Calder world renown. Many of his later works—some are huge stabiles, others large, delicately balanced mobiles—were made for public buildings. Calder is also noted for his book illustrations and stage sets.

See his Mobiles and Stabiles (1968), J. Lipman, ed., Calder's Circus (1972), and J. Perl and J. T. Hill, Calder by Matter: Photographs of Alexander Calder and his Work (2014); autobiography (1966); biographies by J. M. Marter (1991) and J. Perl (Vol. I, 2017); studies by J. J. Sweeney (1951), M. Gibson (1988), D. Marchesseau (1989), G.-G. Lemaire (1998), M. Prather et al. (1998), S. C. Rower (1998), and J. Simon and B. Leal, ed. (2008).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: American and Canadian Art: Biographies