Room Three

Explaining his fascination with the circus, Calder said:

It wasn’t the daringness of the performers, nor the tricks and gimmicks, it was the fantastic balance in motion that the performers exhibited.

In 1926 he began to construct his own miniature circus performers using wire and a variety of unconventional materials such as fabric, cork and buttons. Each figure was designed to execute individual circus acts, and Calder used them to stage live shows in front of small invited audiences. He continued to devise new acts over the next few years, so that the entire performance eventually lasted up to two hours. Artists such as Jean Cocteau, Joan Miró and Piet Mondrian were among those who came to see the Cirque Calder.

As well as figures from the circus, this room includes drawings and a selection of sculptures depicting acrobats, and some of the wire portraits that Calder created in the late 1920s. Often resembling caricatures, the portraits demonstrate the remarkable versatility of Calder’s technique and his characteristic ingenuity. The selection of subjects reflects his interest in performance and celebrity, from the tennis player Helen Wills to the cabaret sensation Josephine Baker, whose famous movements are brought to life by the sculpture’s own oscillations. There are also several portraits of Calder’s friends from the artistic community, including the painter Joan Miró, and the composer Edgard Varèse.