Within Grinnell College’s permanent collection, Alexander Calder’s Untitled Mobile is a unique piece of art but in his overall creative output, it is just one example of his many mobiles that helped to totally revolutionize three-dimensional works created during the 20th century. Calder’s abstract sculpture makes for an unconventional viewing experience. While the piece is difficult to describe due to the way it is structured and the movement that accompanies a mobile, Calder’s specialty in three-dimensional representation provides great insight into his aesthetic preferences, his creative process and his exploration with objects and their relation to space. Of his artistic process that goes into creating a mobile, he said that,
I used to begin with fairly complete drawings, but now I start by cutting out a lot of shapes....Some I keep because they're pleasing or dynamic. Some are bits I just happen to find. Then I arrange them, like papier collé [paper collage], on a table, and "paint" them -- that is, arrange them, with wires between the pieces if it's to be a mobile, for the overall pattern. Finally I cut some more of them with my shears, calculating for balance this time. I begin at the small ends, then balance in progression until I think I've found the point of support. This is crucial, as there is only one such point and it must be right if the object is to hang or pivot freely. I usually test out this point with strings to make sure before bending the wires. The size and angle of the shapes and how to use them is a matter of taste and what you have in mind (National Gallery of Art).
Standing at 54 inches high and 42 inches across, Calder’s Untitled Mobile is constructed out of a black coated wire that contains smaller wires extending out in many directions. Each protrusion contains a single, two-dimensional red, blue, yellow, black or white circle adhered to the ends of each of the smaller wires. Before Calder invented the mobile, sculptural works were not created with the intent of a hanging display in mind. By having a hanging element to them, the viewer is able to observe the mobile from many different perspectives as it oscillates high above them. The oscillation allows for a completely new and different viewing experience each time the viewer engages with Calder’s Untitled Mobile. His sculpture suspended from the ceiling by its wire spins organically while on display and actively engages the viewer because a different perspective of the work is continuously on view. For instance, the spinning, in conjunction with the lighting provided for the mobile in particular tests the audience to take a critical look at how the mobile interacts with the space in which it is positioned. To experience all sides of the work, the piece dares the viewer to move around, tilt your head in different directions, stand near it then far away, and to talk with others about what you see. As it spins the lighting can manipulate the eye’s ability to differentiate the colors of the circles and places emphasis on Calder’s structural elements that give the mobile its particular abstract elegance. For Calder it was important that his mobiles “challenged the prevailing notion of sculpture as a composition of masses and volumes by proposing a new definition based on the ideas of open space and transparency” (National Gallery of Art).
This fascination with space and transparency also fueled Calder’s desire to have his work inspire a free-floating effect which he often compared to poetry. Of his work he said that “To most people who look at a mobile, it's no more than a series of flat objects that move. To a few, though, it may be poetry” (National Gallery of Art). The gracefulness of form, the repetition of movement and its ease in which it can conjure up an array of emotions in the viewer all extract elements of poetry which can be seen in Calder’s work. Untitled Mobile, and his other similar sculptures, all highlight Calder’s deviation from traditional, representational sculptural forms and his move towards the realm of the abstract and the visually striking elements of modernist art production. Prior to his development of the mobile, Calder’s art was focused on sculptures that were displayed by adhering them to the ground or to the wall. By experimenting with new techniques, Calder was able to fuse his materials into an artistic dialogue with one another that created a dance of color, line and a fluidity that kept the viewer desiring to see more of what Calder had to offer to the modernist movement.
In conjunction with his mobiles, Alexander Calder once stated that art can be realized “Out of different masses, tight, heavy, middling—indicated by variations of size or color—directional line—vectors which represent speeds, velocities, accelerations, forces, etc. . .—these directions making between them meaningful angles, and senses, together defining one big conclusion or many. It must not be just a fleeting moment but a physical bond between the varying events in life…” (Calder Foundation) Calder’s works symbolize the joining together of the bits and pieces of an individual’s life that makes it significant. How we interact, feel, move around and experience life is embodied in Alexander Calder’s sculptures because his works were inspired by these very elements. It was not acceptable to him to repeat methods and techniques of the past but rather to challenge the notion of traditional art making and bring in new elements of whimsy and spectacle to the art making process. Alexander Calder completely transformed the very way in which sculptural objects were created, displayed and experienced. To this day, artists utilize his influence in their works by pushing the boundaries of what is feasible to create and show in a public space and are constantly testing new and exciting methods of creative sculptural expression all thanks to Calder’s creations.
“Calder, Alexander.” Wikipedia. Web. 28 Nov. 2010.
Calder Foundation. The Calder Foundation. 2010. Web. 28 Nov. 2010.
National Gallery of Art. Alexander Calder: 1898-1976. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 2010. Web. 28 Nov. 2010.
Rose, Bernice. A Salute to Alexander Calder. New York, NY: The Museum of Modern Art, 1970. Print.
A revolutionary sculptor, gifted painter, and skillful designer, Alexander Calder was born on July 22, 1898 in Lawntown, Pennsylvania to Alexander Stirling Calder and Nanette Lederer. Calder and was the younger brother of Margaret Calder. Regarded as one of the most influential sculptors in 20th-century American art, Calder spent the majority of his creative up-bringing in Pennsylvania and Arizona. Calder’s parents, both highly accomplished artists, influenced their son’s creativity. His father was a highly gifted sculptor while his mother was heavily involved in portraiture, and taking these influences from his childhood, Calder went on to totally revolutionize sculpture by conceptualizing new methods and techniques of producing art. Yet surprisingly, Calder did not always envision himself becoming an artist. In 1919, “he graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology with an engineering degree and post graduation he worked various jobs, including as a hydraulics engineer and automotive engineer, timekeeper in a logging camp, and fireman in a ship's boiler room” (The Calder Foundation). It was his job in the ship boiler’s room that really inspired him to create his famous artwork. While working aboard the ship, Calder was exposed to elements of nature that he had never previously known. For one of the first times in his life, Calder interacted with the ocean and sky, he experienced the space and movement, and these interactions inspired him to produce works from uncommon materials, such as wire, metal, cloth, leather, and wood. By using these unique materials, he was able to interpret his experiences at sea into tangible objects. His interest in space and wire’s interaction with circles, squares and various abstract shapes inspired him to experiment with unique compositions that challenged traditional two-dimensional forms of representation that had come before him. Arguably, one his most important contributions to the development of modern art is his mobiles, in addition to other large- scale abstract sculptures, jewelry and even some abstract paintings that have inspired a whole new generation of artists.
Alexander Calder’s artist journey continued in 1925 when he moved to New York and worked for the National Police Gazette. One of Calder’s assignments called for him to observe and draw various scenes from a circus that would eventually become a great influence in his works. A year later, after moving to and setting up his studio in Paris, Alexander Calder began experimenting with toys. These two themes--the circus and the toys-- inspired Calder to create one of his most popular creations, Cirque Calder, an assembly of figures and scenes representing what he saw during his time observing the circus. Calder tended to create his scenes small enough so that he could pack them up and perform miniature shows and thus led to a great amount of public exposure for himself and his new art techniques. In particular, Calder made public his use of wire as a crucial element to his sculptural work and thus showcased modernist and innovative approaches to making artwork from unconventional materials.
In 1931, Calder met his wife, Louisa James, and they were married soon after. Calder also become quite good friends with fellow modern artists Piet Mondrian, Joan Miro, Fernand Leger, and heavy hitter, Marcel Duchamp, all of whom helped inspire him to try out new modes of creative expression and to push the limits of his fascination with wire sculpture. For instance, a visit with Mondrian one day at his studio totally restructured Calder’s approach to sculpture making and Mondrian’s use of abstract shapes in his work inspired Calder to begin experimentation with structures that would ultimately lead to the formation of Calder’s famous mobiles. In fact, according to the Calder Foundation, in the fall of 1931, a significant turning point in Calder's artistic career occurred when he created his first truly kinetic sculpture and gave form to an entirely new type of art. The first of these objects moved by systems of cranks and motors, and were dubbed "mobiles" by Marcel Duchamp—in French mobile refers to both "motion" and "motive" (The Calder Foundation). It was this inspiration that also led him to create other three-dimensional works out of wood, metal and cloth that would also challenge the limits of these media. His artistic influence has been felt around the world and his works now exist in many international collections. Alexander Calder totally reinvented the very nature of sculptures during the era of modern art and unfortunately passed away on November 11, 1976, yet Calder will always be remembered for his “innovative works that explored the aesthetic possibilities of untraditional materials. As a major contribution to the development of abstract art, Calder's stabiles and mobiles challenged the prevailing notion of sculpture as a composition of masses and volumes by proposing a new definition based on the ideas of open space and transparency” (National Gallery of Art).
Calder Foundation. The Calder Foundation. 2010. Web. 28 Nov. 2010.
National Gallery of Art. Alexander Calder: 1898-1976. National Gallery of
Art, Washington, D.C. 2010. Web. 28 Nov. 2010.