Alexander Calder’s Antennae with Red and Blue Dots c.1953 is a hanging sculpture that extends just over a metre in each direction and is designed to be displayed suspended from its upper steel wire. Four large and four smaller downward-hanging aluminium plates resembling fins comprise the main body of the sculpture, while rising upwards are four antenna-like wires surmounted with a yellow, blue, red, and white aluminium disk respectively, as well as three that support small black fins. Although Calder’s mobile sculptures are not inert and their motion does not follow a set pattern of movement, there are specific rules for connecting the elements. The Calder Foundation provided the following instructions for Antennae with Red and Blue Dots: ‘the smallest black elements should hang as far from the largest black elements as possible, not directly beneath them’. (Arminée Chahbazian, Calder Foundation, letter to Tate curator Michela Parkin, 12 June 1995, Tate Acquisition File, Alexander Calder.)
After training as a mechanical engineer, Calder began to make animated animals and people in wood and wire in 1926, creating works such as the circus that he named Cirque Calder 1926–31 (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York). Living in Paris in 1931, he joined the group Abstraction-Création and started making sculptures which could be moved by hand or by small electric motors. He then started to make the forms for which he is best known, namely his mobiles – suspended networks of wires and painted forms that could be set in motion by air currents. Mobile c.1932 (Tate L01686) is an earlier construction that contains several of the same fin-like forms and primary colours that are seen in Antennae with Red and Blue Dots.
When hung, Antennae with Red and Blue Dots experiences constant shifts in position and might not always resemble static photographs of it fully extended. This was part of Calder’s intention for his sculptures, and in 1932 he wrote:
Each element able to move, to stir, to oscillate, to come and go in its relationships with the other elements in its universe. It must not be just a fleeting ‘moment’, but a physical bond between the varying elements in life.
(Quoted in Borchardt-Hume 2015, p.219.)
Curator Penelope Curtis noted the performative elements of Calder’s sculpture in relation to the title of his retrospective Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture at Tate Modern, London, in 2015:
‘Performing Sculpture’ clearly has a double sense and perhaps both meanings can be applied to the work of Alexander Calder. On the one hand it is a category of sculpture that performs; on the other it is a state of being, an act of transformation, a moment in which the sculpture become sculptural.
(Penelope Curtis, ‘Performance or Post-Performance’, in Borchardt-Hume 2015, p.14.)
Calder’s works invite dynamic interaction between artwork and viewer, performing sculpture through an investigation of space and motion.
‘Calder’s Work’, online catalogue raisonné, Calder Foundation, New York, undated, http://www.calder.org/, accessed 17 June 2016.
Joan M. Martin, Alexander Calder, Cambridge 1991.
Achim Borchardt-Hume (ed.), Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2015, reproduced p.206.
Supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art.