Alexander Calder and Contemporary Architecture

David Plick — 

Crinkly Red & Yellow, 1968

American sculptor Alexander Calder came from a long line of successful visual artists. His grandfather made the famous statue of William Penn in Philadelphia; his father’s work has been in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and his mother was a famous portrait artist. In his childhood the Calder family moved from Pennsylvania to Arizona, California, West Chester then to New Jersey. At university Calder began studying mechanical engineering because his parents didn’t want him to endure the life of an artist. But, after an inspirational journey on a passenger ship from Guatemala to San Francisco, and then traveling up the coast to Washington State, he got some paint brushes and canvasses and the rest was history. He soon thereafter joined an artist’s league in New York, and moved to Paris where he was heavily influenced by the work of Joan Miró and Marcel Duchamp, the latter of which became a close friend.

Alexander Calder saw the abstract geometry in cubists and sought to achieve the same effect in sculpture. While many viewers saw each piece as a standalone work of art, the movement of the universe influenced all of the mobiles. Famously, this focus on movement in his kinetic sculptures fixed with mechanical parts culminated in his Cirque Calder, a highly detailed sculpture of a circus with wire models that contort to create the act of circus performers, including a sword swallower. Calder also made stabiles, standstill “traditional” sculptures, and toys, all of which were on display this year at the exhibition, Hypermobility at the Whitney Museum.

Calder’s effect on contemporary architecture is more relevant today than ever. His unique and innovative approach to design, his incorporation of movement and bright colors, led to many architects relying on his sculptures for their renderings. This fact was even mocked recently in ArchDaily’s article, “Why Are Alexander Calder Sculptures So Overused in Architecture Renders?”, with firms including OMA, Jean Nouvel, and BIG, who use, without permission sometimes, Calder’s sculptures to create an avant-garde, urban sophistication to their designs.

By: David Plick

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