Chicago is no stranger to the work of Alexander Calder; his 50-ton, red abstract stabile entitled Flamingo graces Chicago’s Federal Square. He was not only an abstract painter and sculptor, but infamous for designing the ‘mobile’.
The foundation of his creativity and dangling artworks of wire can be attributed to his background in mechanical engineering. Calder first studied engineering at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. After graduating in 1919 and working several odd jobs, he finally moved to New York in 1923 and enrolled at the Arts Students League. Thus, his career as an artist emerged.
Calder's Flamingo in Chicago's Federal Plaza
The body of work that propelled him into such a success was a miniature circus that he designed called the Le Cirque de Calder, in Paris in 1927. Calder took interest in the circus in his mid-twenties after he took an assignment with the New York Journal to publish a series of illustrations of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus. Upon moving to Paris in 1926, Calder’s fascination with circus life grew and his inspiration to replicate the show became a work in progress. During his studies at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, he constructed his first figure out of wire, wood and cloth and in the spring 1927, had completed an entire miniature circus, ring and all.
Complex and unique, this body of work consists of performers, animals and props fashioned out of wire, cloth, leather and other materials. The Cirque Calder was manually operated by Calder, who manipulated the wire figurines into performing typical, death-defying acts found in real circuses. His first performance was held in Paris at his studio and attended by his peers and friends. With his wife working the gramophone, Calder amazed his audience with his ingenious mechanical devices and manipulation of the tiny, wire performers displayed as lion tamers, cowboys and acrobats. Figures walking the tightrope, getting shot out of a cannon, leaping and engaging in acrobatics in the ring were highlights of the elaborate, 2-hour show.
Calder’s rendering of the circus became a huge success and he presented Le Cirque de Calder all over Paris and in New York. He continued to give performances well into the 1930s. Today, the circus is housed at the Whitney Museum in New York and continues to draw an audience. Over the years, at least two films have been created, documenting Calder’s performances. The more popular of the two is the 1961 film by Carlos Vilardebo entitled Calder’s Circus, which showcases Calder as the “Ringmaster” animating his toy-like figurines within the ring.
Until his death in 1976, Calder went on to have many more successful and artistically productive decades, exhibiting his works at such museums and galleries as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the George Walter Vincent Smith Gallery and at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Third International Exhibition of Sculpture. Working with wire for Le Cirque inspired Calder’s later projects, and his creations and sculptures became bigger and more unique. In the 1930s, he not only became renowned for inventing the mobile, but discovered a talent for creating large, outdoor sculptures, experimenting with wood and sheet metal. Although his mobiles launched a new art form and his sculptures are timeless, the most memorable and inspirational body of work produced by Calder remains to be Le Cirque de Calder.
Works Cited http://www.answers.com/topic/alexander-calder http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/alexander-calder/about-the-artist/78/ http://www.calder.org/home http://rogallery.com/Calder_Alexander/calder-biography.htm
Written and researched by Shanna Seiberlich.
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