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Alexander Calder

Alexander Calder (b. 1898, Lawnton, PA – d. 1976, New York, NY) is considered one of the most innovative and prolific artists of the 20th century. He was born in Pennsylvania to a family of artists, and began creating sculptures at just 11 years old. Calder received an engineering degree from Stevens Institute of Technology in 1919, later finding work as a hydraulics engineer, automotive engineer, timekeeper in a logging camp, and fireman in a ship’s boiler room. In 1923, he moved to New York and studied at the Art Students’ League. He began illustrating for the National Police Gazette and sketched scenes of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. In 1926, he moved to Paris and developed this interest, creating kinetic circus assemblages that he performed.

In 1928, the Weyhe Gallery in New York held Calder’s first solo sculpture gallery show. He subsequently exhibited in New York, Paris, and Berlin. In 1930, Calder befriended prominent artists and intellectuals of the early 20th century, later joining Abstraction-Création, an influential group of artists, including Jean Arp, Piet Mondrian, and Jean Hélion. His work demonstrates notable influence from the Surrealist movement and contemporary Joan Miró, whom he greatly admired.

His kinetic sculptures, coined “mobiles” by Marcel Duchamp, gave form in 1931. Calder eventually abandoned the mechanical aspect of his sculptures in favor of freely undulating suspended parts. Jean Arp dubbed these later works “stabiles.” During this same decade, Calder experimented with scale, creating large outdoor sculptures. He turned to wood in the 1940s as metal was scarce during World War II, and focused primarily on large-scale works towards the end of his life.

It was also in Paris that Calder met Stanley William Hayter, who encouraged him to take up printmaking. Calder would go on to make prints for the rest of his career, with a strong increase in production in the 1950’s as he became something of a household name in the United States.

Following a shift in Calder’s artistic interests, his prints moved from illustration and figurative works to pure abstraction in the mid-1930s. As the mobility of geometric shapes was investigated in his sculptures, so too was it in his two-dimensional, printed works. Though Calder’s prints and sculptures demonstrate noted stylistic similarities, his prints were, in fact often intended as stand-alone studies of mobility. Calder’s works on paper (including drawings and gouaches) share his characteristic color palette, about which he writes, “I have chiefly limited myself to the use of black and white as being the most disparate colors. Red is the color most opposed to both of these, and then, finally, the other primaries. The secondary colors and intermediate shades serve only to confuse and muddle the distinctness and clarity.”

In 1976, he attended the opening of a major retrospective of his work, Calder's Universe, at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Just a few weeks later, Calder died at the age of seventy-eight, ending one of the most prolific and innovative artistic careers of the twentieth century.

In 2007, Mary Ryan Gallery held a solo exhibition of Calder’s lithographs from 1968 to 1969.

Calder’s work has most recently been exhibited at the Musée national Picasso-Paris (2019), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2019), Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence (2018), Fundación Proa, Buenos Aires (2018), Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (2018), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (2017), Ateneum Art Museum (2017), Whitney Museum of American Art (2017), Musée Zervos, Vézelay (2017), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2017), Centre Georges Pompidou (2016), Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2016), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2016), Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel (2016), Museo Jumex, Mexico City (2015), Grand Palais des Champs-Élysées, Paris (2015), Centre de la Vieille Charité, Marseille (2015), Pushkin Museum, Moscow (2015), Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence (2015), Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (2015), Tate Modern, London (2015), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (2014), Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein (2014) and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2013).

Calder’s work is in numerous prominent museum collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Broad Museum, CA; Brooklyn Museum, NY; Centre Pompidou, FR; de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, CA; Fondation Beyeler, Basel, CH; Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Hiroshima, JP; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Israel Museum, Jerusalem, IL; J. Paul Getty Museum, CA; Kunstmuseum Basel, CH; Los Angeles County Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, DK; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Moderna Museet, Stockholm, SE; Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, VE; Musée des Arts Décoratifs, FR; Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, CA; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, ES; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; Museum of Modern Art, NY; Museum of New Art, Lódz, PL; Museum of Western Art, Moscow, RU; Nagoya City Art Museum, Nagoya, JP; Nationalgalerie, Berlin, DE; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, NL; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.; St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, NL; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY; Tate Gallery, London, UK; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; Whitney Museum of American Art, NY and the Yale University, New Haven, CT.
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