Born to artist parents in Pennsylania, Alexander Calder was encouraged to create from a very young age - from the age of eight he always had his own workshop wherever the family lived. Following an engineering degree at Stevens Institute of Technology in 1919, Calder spent several years in various jobs, including as a fireman on a ship from New York bound for San Francisco. Whilst this ship was anchored off the Guatemalan coast, Calder awoke on the deck to see a brilliant sunrise and a scintillating full moon, which were visible simultaneously on opposite horizons, an experience he would refer to it throughout his life.
Calder committed to becoming an artist shortly thereafter and, in 1923, he moved to New York and enrolled at the Art Students League. He also took a job illustrating for the National Police Gazette, which sent him to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus to sketch circus scenes for two weeks in 1925. The circus became a lifelong interest of Calder's, and after moving to Paris in 1926, he created his Cirque Calder, a complex and unique body of art. The assemblage included diminutive performers, animals and props fashioned from wire, leather, cloth and other found materials. Cirque Calder was designed to be manipulated manually by Calder, therefore predating performance art by forty years.
Calder found he enjoyed working with wire for his circus and soon began to sculpt from this material. In 1928, Calder was given his first solo gallery show at the Weyhe Gallery in New York, an event which was followed by others in New York, as well as in Paris and Berlin. Calder attended his shows in Europe and settled in Paris where he befriended fellow artists including Joan Miró, Fernand Léger, James Johnson Sweeney and Marcel Duchamp. In October 1930, Calder visited the studio of Piet Mondrian and recalled later in life that this experience "shocked" him toward total abstraction.
A significant turning point in Calder's artistic career occurred in 1931, when he created his first truly kinetic sculpture and gave form to an entirely new type of art. In 1933, Calder left France and returned to the United States, where he settled in an old farmhouse in Roxbury, Connecticut. It was also then that Calder began his association with the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York with his first show in 1934. In 1937, Calder created his first large bolted stabile fashioned entirely from sheet metal, which he entitled Devil Fish.
When the United States entered World War II, Calder applied for entry to the Marine Corps but was ultimately rejected. He continued to create but a shortage of metal forced him to use wood. Working in wood resulted in yet another original form of sculpture, works called ‘constellations’. The Pierre Matisse Gallery held an exhibition of these works in the spring of 1943, Calder's last solo show at that gallery. His association with Matisse ended shortly thereafter and he took up the Buchholz Gallery/Curt Valentin as his New York representation.
The 1940's and 1950's were a remarkably productive period for Calder, which was launched in 1938 with the first retrospective of his work at the George Walter Vincent Smith Gallery in Springfield, Massachusetts. A second, major retrospective was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York just a few years later, in 1943. During the 1950’s, Galerie Maeght, in Paris, became Calder's exclusive Parisian dealer, an association which lasted twenty-six years, until his death in 1976. After his New York dealer Curt Valentin died unexpectedly in 1954, Calder selected the Perls Gallery in New York as his new American dealer, and this alliance also lasted until the end of his life.
In 1976, Calder attended the opening of yet another retrospective of his work, Calder's Universe, at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Just a few weeks later, Calder died, ending the most prolific and innovative artistic career of the twentieth century.
Public Collections include
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
Fondation Maeght, St. Paul de Vence
Museo Nacinal Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid
Museum of Modern Art, New York
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv
Marchessau, Daniel. The Intimate World of Alexander Calder, catalogue raisonné. 1989, New York, USA.