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Alexander Calder

Alexander "Sandy" Calder

Alexander Calder

Alexander "Sandy" Calder

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Alexander Calder was an American sculptor best known as the originator of the mobile, a type of kinetic sculpture the delicately balanced or suspended components of which move in response to motor power or air currents; by contrast, Calder’s stationary sculptures are called stabiles. He also produced numerous wire figures, notably for a vast miniature circus.

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Alexander Calder (/ˈkɔːldər/; July 22, 1898 – November 11, 1976) is widely considered to be one of the most important American sculptors of the 20th century. He is best known for his colorful, whimsical abstract public sculptures and his innovative mobiles, kinetic sculptures powered by motors or air currents, which embraced chance in their aesthetic. Born into a family of accomplished artists, Calder's work first gained attention in Paris in the 1930s and was soon championed by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, resulting in a retrospective exhibition in 1943. Major retrospectives were also held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1964) and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1974). Calder’s work is in many permanent collections, most notably in the Whitney Museum of American Art, but also the Guggenheim Museum; the Museum of Modern Art; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Centre Georges Pompidou. He produced many large public works, including .125 (at JFK Airport, 1957), Spirale (UNESCO in Paris, 1958), Flamingo and Universe (both in Chicago, 1974), and Mountains and Clouds (Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., 1976). Although primarily known for his sculpture, Calder was a prodigious artist with a restless creative spirit, whose diverse practice included painting and printmaking, miniatures (such as his famous Cirque Calder), children’s book illustrations, theater set design, jewelry design, tapestries and rugs, and political posters. Calder was honored by the US Postal Service with a set of five 32-cent stamps in 1998, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, posthumously in 1977, after refusing to receive it from Gerald Ford one year earlier in protest of the Vietnam War.

Alexander "Sandy" Calder was born in 1898 in Lawnton, Pennsylvania. His actual birthday, however, remains a source of much confusion. According to Calder's mother, Nanette (née Lederer), Calder was born on August 22, yet his birth certificate at Philadelphia City Hall, based on a hand-written ledger, stated July 22. When Calder's family learned about the birth certificate, they reasserted with certainty that city officials had made a mistake.

Calder's grandfather, sculptor Alexander Milne Calder, was born in Scotland, had immigrated to Philadelphia in 1868, and is best known for the colossal statue of William Penn on top of Philadelphia City Hall's tower. His father, Alexander Stirling Calder, was a well-known sculptor who created many public installations, a majority of them in nearby Philadelphia. Calder's mother was a professional portrait artist, who had studied at the Académie Julian and the Sorbonne in Paris from around 1888 until 1893. She moved to Philadelphia, where she met Stirling Calder while studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Calder's parents married on February 22, 1895; his sister, Mrs. Margaret Calder Hayes, was instrumental in the development of the UC Berkeley Art Museum.

In 1902, Calder posed nude for his father’s sculpture The Man Cub, a cast of which is now located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. That same year he also completed his earliest sculpture, a clay elephant. Three years later, Stirling Calder contracted tuberculosis, and Calder's parents moved to a ranch in Oracle, Arizona, leaving the children in the care of family friends for a year. The children were reunited with their parents in late March 1906 and stayed at the ranch in Arizona until fall of the same year.

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Alexander Calder Artworks
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