art for everyone. every monday morning.

Alexander Calder • American (1898-1976)

Balloons C: 1973 • Lithograph on Paper 39-1/2” x 28”

Le Grande Cirque de Calder first appeared on a bright Paris street corner in 1927. It was the brainchild of a third generation American sculptor (fourth counting his great-grandfather who carved tombstones in his native Scotland). Alexander Calder, son of Alexander S. Calder and grandson of Alexander M. Calder, was a trained mechanical engineer with the soul of an artist. “To an engineer, good enough means perfect. With an artist, there’s no such thing as perfect.” Calder spent his life pursuing and escaping perfection.

While studying art in “Roaring 20’s” Gay Paree, Calder began building mechanical circus performers from wire, cork, wood and other found objects. There was a mechanical horse trotting around the main ring until it tripped a lever springing a small wire acrobat into the air and onto the horses back (almost) every time. A mechanized lion chased the Ringmaster’s tassled whip. An acrobat with hooked hands and feet moved effortlessly from one swinging trapeze to another until Calder used a finger to knock it off the bar and tumbling onto the net below. Throughout his life, Calder kept adding mechanical acts to his artful little circus until one day, as an old man, he recreated his Paris youth while kneeling on a sidewalk beneath the famous arch first sculpted by his father.

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By this time, Calder’s fame had far surpassed all previous Calder’s. He was America’s most celebrated sculptor, the creator of delicately balanced, often monumental works that danced in the wind or turned gracefully when powered by small mechanical motors. Marcel Duchamp, one of the world’s most influential modern artists, dubbed Calder’s creations “mobiles” because they were constantly in motion. They sprang from the inventive, whimsical mind of a man born to be an artist, but fascinated by mechanical things.

The Canton Museum of Art is home to a different side of Calder, the modernist as fascinated by geometric shapes and bold colors as he was by movement. Lithographic prints allowed him to explore colorful abstract shapes in two-dimensional works with the same delicate visual balance as his better-known mobiles. Yet, at the heart of all his works was a suitcase filled with formed-wire, mechanical circus performers, the perfect expression of Calder’s most heart-felt artistic statement, “Above all, art should be fun.”

Canton Museum of Art Permanent Collection • Gift of Argosy Partners and Bond Street Partners 80.10


4 Ways to Sound Smart When Viewing at The Canton Museum of Art

“Calder felt his art, especially his mobiles, represented the natural world in the way planets and space interact.”

“Throughout his lifetime, he created a miniature circus of mechanical acrobats, performers and animals that he first displayed as a young Paris street artist.”

“How many Paris tourists watched this odd man playing with his circus knowing they were watching one of the great artists of the 20th Century? I bet not many.”

“He is most famous for his creation of moving sculptures, named ‘mobiles’ by Marcel Duchamp, one of the most influential figures in modern art. His static sculptures were, conversely called ‘stabiles’.”


Calder Timeline. Scroll over images to see timeline.