How Calder invented mobiles
In 1932, Alexander Calder wrote, “Why must art be static? You look at an abstraction, sculptured or painted, an entirely exciting arrangement of planes, spheres, nuclei, entirely without meaning. It would be perfect but it is always still. The next step in sculpture is motion.
It is hard to imagine that the mobile actually was invented, the idea of the mobile is now so ubiquitous.
Curator Gary Garrels.
We see mobiles in many forms everywhere, but this was actually invented by Alexander Calder in Paris in the thirties. He was influenced by the Surrealists and their interest in chance; that we do not have total rational control of our thinking or of our experience in life. Calder was interested in how sculpture might give a voice to that. And by making the mobile, there are a set vocabulary of forms and possibilities of certain combinations and shapes, the way the piece relates to space. But on the other hand, it’s indeterminate; that the elements can move freely from the influence of air currents.
There was no name for such a thing—a sculpture set loose in space—free to move with each passing breeze. So Calder asked his friend, artist Marcel Duchamp, what he should call them. Duchamp’s answer? “Mobile,” the French word for “movable” as well as “motive.” Duchamp and Calder loved puns and double-entendres. “Motive” suggested that a sculpture might have a mind of its own.
Artist Nemo Gould examines Big Crinkly>
SFX: Circusy, playful music
Meet Big Crinkly by Alexander Calder.
My bias – it’s immediately an animal.
And meet Oakland-based artist Nemo Gould. He turns found materials into moving sculptures. Walk around Big Crinkly while you listen.
A huge aspect of my fondness for kinetic art is the way that – it doesn’t necessarily mimic life but it implies it. And this piece at a glance it’s a deer or a large dog.
Maybe a seal balancing something on his nose? A strongman and his barbell? Calder loved the circus.
SFX: toot toot of a clown’s horn, lion tamer’s whip, sounds of the crowd inside of a circus tent.
And he worked the colors and the energy of the Big Top into his sculptures. Big Crinkly is a hugely scaled version of what Calder called a “standing mobile” – solid at its base with movable parts up above.
What I also really appreciate about this whole body of work of his is that they are playful and delicate and elegant and massive and durable. And I’ve learned that those are the hardest things to reconcile. Locally there’s a lot of Burning Man culture. There’s a lot of rusted steel and weight and aggressive brutish mass and if it falls over it will kill you kind of vibe. What’s great about these Calder pieces is they’re just as dangerous but you don’t feel threatened. It’s a very difficult thing to pursue.
You’re standing with Alexander Calder’s Big Crinkly, a painted metal sculpture from 1969. This is a large abstract form made of steel plates bolted together. It’s painted in black, white, and the primary colors red, yellow, and blue, with an animated top that moves in the wind. It stands 12 ½ feet high and is over 8 feet wide and 6 feet deep. This is a three-legged structure about the size of a small giraffe. If we imagine it as a creature, the sculpture seems to be made up of two distinct parts. The lower portion is a grounded, unmoving, static structure with two legs and a zigzag tail holding it in place. The body and legs are painted a bright red color. The zigzag tail has six distinct triangular sections. Each plane of the crinkled tail has been painted either yellow, red, black or white. At the base of the body, there are clusters of bolts. The body cranes toward the sky, and ends in a sharp point. The neck appears to be smooth, but the lower half of the body is bumpy, full of planes and angles. In the upper portion of the sculpture, a thin slightly curved rod balances horizontally on the point of the neck, and extends away from the body. If a gust of wind came along, the metal rod would spin gently in the breeze. At each end of the rod, abstract forms hang in balance. At one end, a single form has been painted blue. At the opposite end, a vertical bar intersects with the horizontal rod. Steel forms hang at each end of that vertical bar—one is painted black, the other, white. Despite it being a 12 and a half foot tall steel structure, the sculpture has friendly, playful quality.
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