In October 1930, the painter Piet Mondrian, one of the pioneers of geometric abstraction, came to watch the Cirque Calder. A few days later, Calder visited Mondrian’s studio. Looking at the coloured cardboard rectangles that Mondrian attached to the wall as compositional aids, Calder suggested that it would be interesting to make these geometrical elements move about. Mondrian disagreed.

For Calder, however, this first serious encounter with abstraction was a revelation. He later described the studio as ‘the shock that converted me. It was like the baby being slapped to make its lungs start working.’ For some weeks afterwards he worked on his own abstract paintings before returning to sculpture. 

He now set about the challenge of combining abstraction and movement. The works in this room reflect some of his early approaches to the problem. Many incorporate a frame within which the elements of the sculpture are suspended from wires. As well as providing a means of support, the frames act like the proscenium arch of a theatre, helping to focus the gaze of the viewer.

All of these sculptures display some degree of motion, whether by hanging freely and responding to ambient breezes, or through rudimentary mechanisms such as the pivoted balance of Small Feathers, which would originally be set into movement by gently nudging the white ball.