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Alexander Calder

Alexander Calder

Alexander Calder


As an art enthusiast, you may be familiar with the innovative mobiles and stabiles of Alexander Calder, one of the most renowned sculptors of the 20th century. Calder's creative genius and prolific body of work spanning over five decades have cemented his status as a pioneer of modern art. 

Calder's natural talents were evident from an early age. His early success as an illustrator and toy designer gave way to a focus on sculpture as he explored wire, wood, and sheet metal to craft graceful, whimsical forms that seemed to defy gravity. Calder's introduction of motion and balance into sculpture was groundbreaking and led to acclaim in both the US and Europe. 

His whimsical yet thought-provoking mobiles and stabiles have brought joy and insight to countless worldwide viewers. Though Calder passed away in 1976 at the age of 78, his imaginative works continue to inspire wonder and push the boundaries of contemporary art. Calder’s profound and timeless contributions to sculpture ensure that his creative spirit lives on.

Follow his inspiring life journey from Pennsylvania to Paris to Connecticut, and the evolution of his signature style, in this comprehensive biography of the man who brought art into motion.

More Facts

Name: Alexander

Surname: Calder

Lives & Works:

Lives in State:

Date of Birth:

Date of Death: 1976


Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Alexander Calder BIOGRAPHY

Alexandar Calder
Image Credit: MoMA

Early Life and Education

Born in 1898 to a family of artists in Philadelphia, Calder’s initial interests were in mechanical engineering. However, after graduating from Stevens Institute of Technology in 1919, he pursued a career as an artist. He began by studying painting at the Art Students League in New York City, though he remained intrigued by sculpture and kinetics.

First Mobiles and Success

In the early 1930s, Calder began creating wire sculptures and experimenting with kinetic art, eventually making his signature mobiles. These suspended, delicately balanced assemblies of abstract shapes incorporate natural movement and change their configuration with the slightest air current. 

What is Alexander Calder known for?

Alexandar Calder
Image Credit: MoMA

Alexander Calder lived a long and prolific life devoted to expanding the possibilities of sculpture through movement and abstraction. Calder’s revolutionary kinetic sculptures, mass appeal, and prolific body of work made him a pivotal figure in modern art. His monumental impact on sculpture and public art continues to wonder and delight audiences worldwide. Calder forged a legacy as an artistic pioneer who shaped contemporary sculpture.

Career highlights

Alexandar Calder
Image Credit: MoMA

Development of the Mobile Sculpture: Who Invented Mobile Art?

In the early 1930s, Calder began experimenting with kinetic sculptures, or art in motion. He started by creating motorized pieces but soon abandoned the mechanical aspects to utilize air currents to activate his works. These new kinetic sculptures were called “mobiles” by Marcel Duchamp, a friend of Calder’s.

Calder’s mobiles were made of abstract shapes, typically disks and spheres, cut from sheet metal. The individual pieces were connected by thin wire or rods in a balanced fashion, so air movement caused the entire sculpture to move and turn. 

Calder meant the kinetic and relative motion of the parts to be integral to the viewer’s experience with the art. The mobiles were designed to have a spontaneous, effortless flowing movement that was hypnotic and calming.

The suspended, abstracted forms of Calder’s mobiles represented a radical break from the figurative, static tradition of sculpture. They pioneered a new type of moving art that was playful and sophisticated. Calder’s prolific creation of mobiles secured his place as one of the most innovative modern artists of the 20th century. His groundbreaking work went on to influence generations of artists.

  • First solo show of mobiles in 1932

Calder continued experimenting with and refining his mobile designs for decades. His mobiles vary significantly in size, colour, and configuration, demonstrating the breadth of his artistic vision. Calder’s monumental outdoor mobiles can be seen in public spaces worldwide, ensuring his lasting legacy.

What Style of Art is Calder Part of?

  • Modern Art
  • Kinetic Art
  • Surrealism
  • Section d’Or

Alexander Calder List of Work

Alexandar Calder
Image Credit: MoMA

Notable Public Sculptures and Commissions

As one of the 20th century’s most prominent sculptors, Alexander Calder created many notable public sculptures and site-specific commissions during his prolific career. Some of his most well-known works can be found in cities across the globe.


Flamingo, Federal Plaza, Chicago

Calder’s 53-foot-tall steel Flamingo sculpture was commissioned by the General Services Administration’s Art in Architecture program. It has become an iconic landmark and symbol of the city of Chicago. The massive stabile sculpture is painted Calder’s signature red and stands in the Federal Plaza.


The Arch Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle


Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park is home to Calder’s The Arch. The 39-foot-tall red-painted steel sculpture was initially commissioned in 1975 for the Washington State Arts Commission. It was later acquired by and donated to the Seattle Art Museum for the sculpture park. The Arch is one of the most recognizable sculptures in Seattle and a focal point of the park.


Spirale UNESCO Headquarters, Paris

Created in 1958, Calder’s Spirale was commissioned by UNESCO for its headquarters in Paris. The immense mobile sculpture hangs in the Meditteranean gallery and spans over 50 feet in diameter. Spirale is renowned for demonstrating Calder’s mastery of balance and movement in his sculptures. The piece continues to fascinate visitors with its slowly rotating and spiralling forms.

Notable Works and Later Life

Calder’s most famous large-scale mobiles include Lobster Trap and Fish Tail, installed at the Guggenheim Museum. Until his death at 88, Calder continued to work and inspire generations with his innovative and whimsical creations. Through a lifetime of avant-garde art, Alexander Calder revolutionized sculpture and pioneered a kinetic art form of grace, beauty and perpetual motion.

Style and Artistic Influences

Alexander Calder’s style was greatly influenced by several major art movements of the early 20th century.

Surrealism and Dada

Surrealism’s focus on uncanny and absurd juxtapositions inspired Calder’s early mobiles. His whimsical and kinetic sculptures also show the influence of Dadaism’s rejection of traditional artistic values in favour of absurdity and whimsy. Calder playfully experimented with movement and balance using irregular shapes in unconventional ways.


Calder was part of the rise of abstraction in European and American art. His mobiles and sculptures moved art away from the figurative by focusing on shape, colour, balance, and movement. Calder abstracted forms from the natural world but transformed them into something new. His art gives life to industrial materials through motion and the harmony of shapes.


The Constructivist movement inspired Calder’s choice of materials and his focus on movement. Constructivism celebrated advanced technology, industrial materials, and dynamism. Calder used wire, sheet metal, and found objects to create kinetic sculptures emblematic of the modern age. His art fused Constructivist esthetics with Surrealist whimsy and the American tradition of tinkering.

What Elements of Art Did Alexander Calder Use?

Calder continuously experimented with form, material, colour, and movement. He mastered various techniques, from twisted wire portraits to wooden circus figures to boldly coloured mobiles. Calder’s constant boundary-pushing and virtuosic material manipulation defined his long, innovative career. His restless creativity and avant-garde spirit made him one of the 20th century’s most influential artists.

Legacy and Impact on Modern Art

Alexander Calder’s innovative and distinctive style made him influential in 20th-century modern art. His prolific work spanning over five decades, shaped contemporary sculpture and left an enduring legacy.

Pioneer of Kinetic Art

Calder pioneered kinetic art with his invention of the mobile sculpture. His delicate, dangling mobiles utilized balance and suspension to create an artistic composition that moved and changed. Calder’s mobiles brought the statue to life, transforming the genre and inspiring later kinetic artists.

Mass Appeal

While avant-garde, Calder’s sculptures appealed to a broad audience. His playful, colourful works were accessible and whimsical, earning him recognition and popularity with art critics and the general public. Calder’s art is featured in significant museum collections worldwide, demonstrating his far-reaching influence and mass appeal.

Monumental Impact

Calder’s prolific output of over 22,000 works ranged from intimate wire sculptures to monumental outdoor stabiles. His extensive public sculptures can be found in cities from New York to Paris to Jerusalem. Calder’s monumental works pioneered public art installations and cemented his status as one of the most important modern sculptors.

How Did Alexander Calder Change the World?

Alexander Calder changed the world through his groundbreaking approach to sculpture. His mobiles and sculptures brought motion, playfulness, and accessibility to the art world, inspiring future generations of artists and transforming the way we perceive and interact with art.

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