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 Calder is like Beethoven
SFX: Music, spare, meditative
I actually grew up with a mobile above me all the time that was made by my grandfather.
I wish Eighteen Numbered Black was mine.
SFX: Piano opens up into a concerto reminiscent of Beethoven
If you think about a handwritten composition by Beethoven or something, if you think about the notes on the score, then the sculpture starts to have this kind of resonance to how music or sound has these waves, these frequencies. And the mobiles have that, too.
Move around. Try looking at it from different angles.
It has so much going on that each time you see it, you can have a new experience. There’s a sensation that something might even be alive. Even though it’s just metal—you know, sheet metal, wire, paint, you do feel this quality of a presence in the room with you.
SFX: Music fades
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