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.
How is this work like a mini Calder retrospective?
Alexander Calder titled this sculpture Tower with Painting. He suspended several different objects he’d made inside.
Many of them are pieces from earlier periods. So having a mobile and having a painting, it’s like a little Calder art history lesson all in itself.
Sandy Rower is the artist’s grandson — so he knows that history. Personally.
Being in Calder’s studio when he was at work was really like a chapel. It was silent. He didn’t play music. He didn’t play the radio. He didn’t even have a radio in the studio. He was very adept as using his tools. He could have a junky pair of pliers or an unsharpened chisel and still use it with great dexterity. Us grandkids had the great luck and pleasure to be able to be there and be able to work on our own projects. He would help us with tools and give us direction. But if we just annoyed him or disturbed him, he’d kick us right out. It was a place to be seriously at work. And if you weren’t seriously at work, you shouldn’t be there.
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