Room Guide

Widely celebrated as the originator of the ‘mobile’, Alexander Calder (1898-1976) was one of the most innovative and influential American artists of the twentieth century.

This exhibition focuses on Calder’s pioneering approach to sculpture, as he overturned many traditional assumptions about the medium. From his early works in wire, he defined figures with delicate lines in space, not as a solid mass. Many of his works hung from the ceiling rather than standing on a plinth. In 1930, impressed by the distinctive environment of Piet Mondrian’s studio, Calder turned to abstraction. Most remarkable of all were his experiments with motion. For Calder, sculpture was no longer a static object for the viewer to walk around, inspecting it from every angle, but something that could itself rotate and be experienced in space and present time.

Most of the works in this exhibition date from the 1930s and early 1940s, during which he tirelessly explored different approaches to making mobiles – a term coined by Marcel Duchamp in 1931 to describe Calder’s kinetic abstractions.

Calder first established his reputation through the performances that he staged with Cirque Calder, a complex, unique body of work which attracted a devoted following among the Paris avant-garde. He had a lifelong interest in the performing arts. Over the years his friends and collaborators included modernist composers such as Edgard Varèse, Virgil Thomson and John Cage, as well as leading figures in contemporary dance such as Martha Graham and Ruth Page. His explorations of sound and movement, of chance and intervention, and the ways in which an artwork can respond to or alter its surroundings, took place within a milieu informed by developments in music and choreography as much as by fine art. Embodying the vitality of dancers or acrobats, Calder’s sculptures were performers in their own right.