A mobile is a type of sculpture that is formed of delicate components which are suspended in the air and move in response to air currents or motor power

Kenneth Martin, 'Small Screw Mobile' 1953
Kenneth Martin
Small Screw Mobile 1953
Metal
object: 635 x 229 mm
Purchased 1962© The estate of Kenneth Martin

Introduction to mobile

Artist Alexander Calder was the originator of the mobile. By suspending forms that move with the flow of air, Calder revolutionised sculpture. It was Marcel Duchamp who dubbed these works ‘mobiles’. Rather than a solid object of mass and weight, they continually redefine the space around them as they move. Calder’s subtle balance of form and colour resulted in works that suggest an animated version of paintings by friends such as Joan Miró.

Mobile in Tate’s collection

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Alexander Calder in focus

Calder’s suspended wire sculptures or rather ‘mobiles’ were produced in the 1930s and could be moved by hand or by small electric motors. They consisted of several abstract shapes, normally in a palette of primary colours, black and white.

Who is Alexander Calder?
Find out about his key works, his thoughts about sculpture and how he transported his mobiles. 

Watch this short film about Calder Piece, a 1963 musical colloboration between composer Earler Brown and Alexander Calder. Percussionists play on Calder’s mobile Chef d’orchestre, working with the unpredictability of the structure whilst staying true to the original score.

Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture
This online exhibition guide for this major exhibition of the artist’s work at Tate Modern from November 2015 until April 2016, reveals how motion, performance and theatricality underpinned Calder’s practice.

Lost Art: Alexander Calder
Find out about Alexander Calder’s Bent Propeller 1970, a piece which was lost in the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York, in this article from The Gallery of Lost Art project.

Poem of the month: Butterfly Antennae 
Read James Midgley’s poem inspired by Alexander Calder’s Antennae with Red and Blue Dots.

Mobile in detail

Restoring Kenneth Martin’s Mobile Reflector 1955
Find out about the project to restore Kenneth Martin’s damaged Mobile Reflector.

Mobile for kids

Alexander Calder, 'Antennae with Red and Blue Dots' c1953
Alexander Calder
Antennae with Red and Blue Dots c1953
Aluminium and steel wire
© 2015 Calder Foundation, New York and DACS, London

These blog posts and activites are a fun and simple way to introduce mobile to kids, whether in the classroom or at home.

Who is Alexander Calder?
This blog post on Tate Kids is an excellent introduction to the man who made modern art move! 

Make your own circus
Get kids making their own wire sculpture circus acts in the style of Alexander Calder.

Alexander Calder: Acrobats
Kids can submit their stories inspired by Calder’s Acrobats. On that note, what’s it like to be an ariel performer in a circus? Find out in this Tate Kids interview with Romy Bauer from Circus Starr.

Related glossary terms

Kinetic art, sculpture