A Year: Day to Day Men: 23rd of August

The Aquamarine Armchair

August 23, 1846 was the birthdate of sculptor Alexander Milne Calder.

Alexander Calder, the third-generation of artists in the Calder family, is widely considered to be one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century. He is best known for his colorful, whimsical abstract public sculptures and his innovative mobiles, kinetic sculptures powered by motors or air currents, which embraced chance in their aesthetic.

Calder enrolled at the Stevens Institute of Technology in 1915 to study engineering and excelled in mathematics. He received his degree in 1919 and worked as a draughtsman for the New York Edison Company. After several years of traveling the country and working in various jobs, Calder moved to New York and enrolled at the Art Students League, studying with Thomas Hart Benton, George Luks, and John Sloan.

In 1926, Calder moved to Paris, enrolled in the Adademie de la Grand Chaumiere, and established a studio in the Montparnasse Quarter. While in Paris, he met and became friends with local avant-garde artists, including Jean Arp, Marcel Duchamp, and Fernand Leger. At this time Calder created his wire sculptures, or drawings in space, and had his first solo show of these sculptures at Galerie Billiet in Paris. A visit to Piet Mondrian’s studio later in 1930 influenced him into fully embracing abstract art.

It was the mixture of Calder’s experiments to develop purely abstract sculpture following his visit with Mondrian that led to his first truly kinetic sculptures, manipulated by means of cranks and motors, that would become his signature artworks. Calder’s kinetic sculptures are regarded as being amongst the earliest manifestations of an art that consciously departed from the traditional notion of the art work as a static object and integrated the ideas of gesture and immateriality as aesthetic factors.

Calder’s sculptures of discrete movable parts powered by motors were christened “mobiles” by Marcel Duchamp, a French pun meaning both “motion” and “motive.“ Calder found that the motorized works sometimes became monotonous in their prescribed movements. His solution, arrived at by 1932, was hanging sculptures that derived their motion from touch or air currents. They were followed in 1934 by outdoor pieces which were set in motion by the open air. The wind mobiles featured abstract shapes delicately balanced on pivoting rods that moved with the slightest current of air, allowing for a freer, more natural, shifting play of forms and spatial relationships.

In addition to sculptures, Calder painted throughout his career, beginning in the early 1920s. He picked up his study of printmaking in 1925, and continued to produce illustrations for books and journals. As Calder’s sculpture moved into the realm of pure abstraction in the early 1930s, so did his prints. The thin lines used to define figures in the earlier prints and drawings began delineating groups of geometric shapes, often in motion.

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