Calder was born in Lawnton, Pennsylvania. His family has stated he was born the 22nd of July, but his birth certificate claims he was born a month later on August 22nd, 1898. Both his grandfather and father were sculptors, and his mother was a professional portrait artist who had studied at the Académie Julian and Sorbonne. After moving briefly to Arizona, California, and then back to Philadelphia, the Calders remained part-time in Spuyten Duyvil, New York.
After attending high school in nearby Yonkers and in San Francisco, Calder began his degree as a mechanical engineering student at the Stevens Institute of Technology. After graduating, Calder held a variety of odd jobs, which included working as an engineer on the H.F. Alexander. Although he had spent the majority of his youth avoiding the artists’ life of his parents, Calder eventually enrolled in the Art Students League in New York where he was taught by greats such as George Lucks, John Sloan, and Thomas Hart Benton. After showing talent and an inclination for depicting whimsy in his work (one of his favorite assignments was sketching the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus), Calder moved to Paris, where he enrolled in the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, and established a studio.
Calder married, and then developed relationships with several high-profile artists, including Marcel Duchamp. The next few years were a time of travel and exploration, as he and his wife, Louisa, visited India and spent time in both America and France. He passed away on November 11, 1976, after the opening of his retrospective at the Whitney Museum in New York City.
Though Calder studied multiple forms of sculpture, he is most famous for his childlike and innovative mobiles. After visiting Piet Mondrian’s studio, he began to piece together his own ideas of how abstract art could be depicted within the artwork’s environment. By using cranks and motors, Calder revolutionized the way art functioned by manifesting his work as neither purely static nor as completely aesthetic. His ‘mobiles’ were christened by Marcel Duchamp, who greatly admired Calder’s use of ready-made materials and his use of movement within his artwork. Calder had a fruitful career — his catalog includes hundreds of works.
During the 1950s, Calder also transitioned to large-scale works in public spaces. Some of his most famous works from this period include Spirale (1957) and Trois Disques (1958). At first, his work echoed his earlier, smaller sculptures. However, Calder later improved his outdoor sculptures by using new materials and by making smaller models before building the structures. Many of these works are still available for visitation today.
One of the most recent retrospectives available in New York was the Alexander Calder: Multum in Parvo exhibit at the Dominique Levy gallery in New York City. The show ran for about three months and featured works such as Haverford Variation (1944), Red Toadstool (1949), and Eight Black Dots (1950). However, there are still plenty of ways to see Calder’s prolific and unique work around the city, including displays at the MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, and the Solomon Guggenheim.
By Alex Schnee
Alex Schnee has always wanted to be a writer. She loves the smell of the bookstore, because nothing in the world smells exactly like it. She spends her days traveling the world and drinking too much coffee, and she’ll always love dancing in the Montana rain.