Alexander Calder

The sculptor who made sculpture move

I've been asked so many questions about Calder that I'm adding this page about him for the time being.

zCenterPole.jpg (55859 bytes)Alexander Calder, 1898-1976, was one of the most important sculptors of the twentieth century. He is sometimes called "the man who made sculpture move" since his hanging mobiles were meant to be kinetic, sometimes activated by air movements and sometimes by engines.

The invention of the mobile often is attributed to him, but one viewer of this page wrote of having seen a mobile created in1751 that was in the Zaans Museum in Holland. Unfortunately, that museum's website has no photo of it.

Click pics for larger images

zSpider.gif (66663 bytes)Calder was a third generation sculptor. Both his father and grandfather were successful sculptors and his mother was a painter. Being named "Calder" and trying to become a sculptor at that time probably was like being named "Fonda" and trying to become an actor now.

Calder had a degree in mechanical engineering. He graduated in 1919 from the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, USA. And he liked mechanical toys.

zstabile.jpg (8667 bytes)After graduating he moved to Paris, France, where he constructed enough mechanical toys to give performances of a miniature mechanical circus. In 1932, when he was given his first actual exhibit in an art gallery, the artist Marcel Duchamp saw these kinetic sculptures and dubbed them "mobiles." So even if he did not invent the mobile, besides popularizing them as an art form, his work inspired the name by which we refer to them today.

The Big Pig Gig and Bats Incredible are exactly the kinds of events in which he would have been interested. A great deal of his work was light and had a sense of humor, like those events.

zStamp1.jpg (22876 bytes)In these images you might be able to see why a three legged structure with an overhang suspending a mobile is what I chose when designing Pigletzander to refer to Calder's work.

The lower half of the sculpture depicted on this postage stamp is similar in some ways to "Pigletzander Calder."


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The people controlling his estate have set a Calder web site ( and have made almost everyone else on the web remove pictures of his work, so what I can show is limited. But I think postage stamps are O.K..

zModelOfMan.jpg (18754 bytes)It was typical for Calder to cut his shapes out of sheets of steel, and then attach smaller flats perpendicularly along their length for stability. I  found a metal cutter willing to donate thousands of dollars of metal cutting so that "Pigletzander" could be like that, but moving the finished structure would have been so expensive. And then there would be the even bigger issue of how to dispose of the sculpture when the event was over. So I made "Pigletzander" out of wood instead. If I had known that a southern city was going to buy it for a permanent installation, I would have used steel.

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When it was standing on the plaza at the entrance to the Cincinnati Art Museum, it was a mere matter of yards from a mobile made by Calder. At that time, if you stood in the front door of the museum, you could look back and forth between the Calder's work and my riff on it. Now, however, that Calder has been replaced with a Chihuly.


A great exhibit and web site with previously unexhibited works by Calder
can be seen at the Storm King Art Center.
Click special exhibit to go straight to the Calder work.

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Joel Selmeier
Copyrighted 2011
Site Updated October 24, 2011