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Great Masters

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Date of birth : 1898-1976
Nationality : American
Activity : Sculptor
Alexander Calder (1898-1976). Was born at Lawnton, a suburb of Philadelphia. His grandfather, Alexander Milne Calder and his father, Alexander Stirling Calder were sculptors and his mother was a painter.

His father had notably been in charge of the sculptural work for the Los Angeles World Exhibition in 1912.

Alexander Calder, however, studied mechanical engineering from 1915 to 1919 at the Stevens Institute of technology at Hoboken , New jersey, and began to take an interest in landscape painting only in 1922 after having tried his hand at a variety of jobs.

In 1923 he began to study at the School of the Art Students' League, New York, where George Luks and John Sloan were among the teachers. Calder and his fellow students soon proved to be good draughtsmen and made a game of rapidly sketching people in the streets and the underground. This led him to be noted for his skill in conveying a sense of movement by a single unbroken line. He also took an interest in sport and circus events and supplied drawings to the satirical National Police Gazette. From these activities it was but a step to his wire sculptures, the first of which - a sundial in the form of a cock – was produced in 1925. Two years later he made moving toys for the Gould Manufacturing Company and small figures of animals and clowns with which he gave circus performances in his studio as well in Paris in 1926 when he made his first trip there.

His first exhibition of paintings took place in 1926 in the Artists' Gallery in New York and produced his first sculpture called The Flattest cat years later.
His wire figures were exhibited by Carl Zigrosser at the Weyhe Gallery and Bookshop, New York, in 1928 and a year later at the Neumann and Nierendorf Gallery in Berlin.

During the 1930's Calder became known both in Paris and in America for his wire sculptures and portraits, his abstract constructions and his drawings but people mostly saw him as a performer and not really as an artist. In 1931 he joined the Abstraction-Creation group and in the same year produced his first non-figurative moving construction. These constructions, which were moved by hand or with a small powered engine were nicknamed "mobiles" in 1932 by Marcel Duchamp while Arp suggested "stabiles" for the non-moving constructions.

In 1934 that Calder, who married Louisa James in 1931, began to make the non powered mobiles for which he became most widely known. Constructed usually from pieces of shaped and painted tin suspended on thin wires or cords, these responded by their own weight to the faintest air currents and were designed to take advantage of effects of changing light created by the movements. The first work of this kind represented two fish placed on a pivot.

Calder described them as "four-dimensional drawings" and in a letter to Duchamp written in 1932 he referred to his desire to make "moving Mondrians". Calder was in fact greatly impressed by a visit to Mondrian in 1930 and no doubt envisaged himself as bringing movement to Mondrian-type geometrical abstracts. Yet the personality and outlook of the two men were very different. Calder's delirious delight in the comic and fantastic, which obtrudes even in his large works, was at the opposite pole from the monk-like seriousness of Mondrian who did not really like his idea of "Moving Mondrians".

Calder exhibited his works with Arp, Hélion, Pevsner, Miro and Seligmann and bought a farm in 1933 in Roxbury, Connecticut, where most of his works were made.

In 1937, he designed what was called a Mercury Fountain for the Spanish Republican pavilion at the International exhibition in Paris and exhibited jewels in new York in 1940.

In 1943, the Museum of Modern in New York held a retrospective exhibition of his works and produced a Morning Cobweb, his first non-mobile work which he called "stabile". After his return to Paris at the end of 1944 he took part in many exhibitions there and abroad and was awarded the Venice Biennial Sculpture Grand prix in 1952 . A year later he bought a house in Saché, near Tours, western France, and produced prints, tapestries, gouaches and paintings beside sculptures. He continued to create both mobiles and stabiles until the 1970's, sometimes combining the two into one structure. Some of these works were of very large dimensions: Teodelapio (1962), a stabile for the city of Spoleto, was 18 m high and 14 m long; Man, done for the Montreal World Exhibition of 1967, was 23 m high; Red Sun (1967) for the Olympic Stadium of Mexico, was 24 m high and the motorised hanging mobile Red, Black and Blue. (1967) at Dallas airport was 14 m wide.

His interest in animal figures and the circus also continued into the 1970's and in 1971 he was making "Animobiles" reminiscent of animals. Although he had done gouaches since the late 1920's, he began to take a more serious interest in them and to exhibit them from 1952.

Calder was a master when it came to reach perfect balance with his mobiles and to express movement though he claimed to produce them simply by testing the balancing effect of his wired elements on his finger.

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