Undoubtedly one of the most celebrated inventors of modern sculpture, Alexander Calder (1898-1976) is famed for his colorful abstract objects that move in the air or rest firmly on the ground in museums or in gardens and public plazas, making him one of the first and most prolific sculptors of large-scale outdoor works.
Born in America into a family of sculptors, Alexander "Sandy" Calder initially started out as a figurative sculptor and painter. While living and working in Paris as a painter, he visited Mondrian´s studio in 1930 and was deeply impressed by the aesthetics of abstraction. Soon abandoning painting, Calder developed the ambition to create moving colored shapes: after some experiments with a motor, he started creating light structures suspended from the ceiling, set in motion through a breath of air.
In 1931, it was Marcel Duchamp who applied the term ´mobiles´ to his kinetic works, which, for almost the first time in art history, formalized real movement in sculpture. The precarious balance of the shapes, like leaves on the branches of a tree, shows a very special talent, helped by his training as an engineer. His first works were delicate figures in steel wire where the artist showed an amazing skill in his use of the material: Calder at that time designed toys, animals, and three-dimensional portraits of his friends, and he articulated characters of a miniature circus, which he presented in public performances with great success.
The development in scale of his works led him to invent a parallel category, the stabiles - a term introduced by Jean Arp in 1932 - where large sheets of generally black metal are assembled to create dynamic structures, sometimes in very large dimensions, to which Calder devoted himself from the 1950s onward. In some cases a mobile structure made up with abstract shapes sways at the top of the sculpture, creating so-called standing mobiles.
An excellent selection of Calder´s mobiles, stabiles, and standing mobiles will be on view at the Rijksmuseum sculpture garden until October 5th. Images courtesy: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
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