THE FAMILY BUSINESS
Born in Philadelphia into a family of artists, Alexander "Sandy" Calder's father and grandfather were well-known academic sculptors and his mother a portrait painter. Calder graduated with a degree in engineering in 1919. He worked as an engineer and took art classes in New York before he went to Paris in 1926.
In Paris, Calder made paintings and toys leading to his Circus, an activated environment first performed in Paris in 1926. This early performance piece was seen by avant-garde artists in Paris, including Fernand Léger, Piet Mondrian and Le Corbusier. Encouraged, he turned to wire as a medium, creating portraits of celebrated people of the day as well as his friends. This was a new medium with no precedent. These improvised wire sculptures described as three-dimensional line drawing brought him notoriety and recognition in Europe before America.
ABSTRACTION AND MOVEMENT
Under the influence of Mondrian and the Constructivists, Calder's work became more abstract and geometric. The first moving sculptures were hand-cranked or run by rudimentary motors. Duchamp named these early works mobiles.
The characteristic works of the 1930's and 1940's are the wind mobiles, standing or hanging, and made of wire and suspended plates in a delicate balance or harmony. A far greater variety of motion was possible than in the mobiles with motors, since chance played a large role in the creative process and the artist could not predetermine the configuration of an object. Calder also began making Stabiles, stationary works made of large sheets of metal connected by bolts.
OUTDOOR AND INDOOR MONUMENTS
In the 1940's, Calder's Mobiles and Stabiles became larger, sometimes achieving architectural proportions. By the 1960's, Calder received many commissions for large-scale stabiles that often resemble witty monsters or bizarre animals.