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Alexander Calder’s metal dog

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Calder has for several decades fascinated art historians and critics seeking to identify the sources of his artistic vision. These analyses have naturally focused on influential modern art movements of the 1920s and 1930s, including constructivism, surrealism, Dada, and the Bauhaus school, as Calder’s main creative antecedents.Though this conventional interpretive approach has yielded many useful insights, the significance of the sculptor’s technical and engineering expertise has become increasingly clear in recent years. The ways Calder combined his engineering skills and personal ingenuity with his knowledge of the avant-garde deserve closer consideration than they have received. Calder’s achievement shows how mechanical engineering principles can have an important, if unexpected, effect on fields outside the profession, particularly on the development of a unique artistic conception.

…Despite choosing an artistic career, Calder remained very much the engineer. In 1925, he needed a timepiece for the small bedroom of his apartment in Manhattan, and instead of simply purchasing a clock, he designed a wire rooster to use as a sundial. In his autobiography, he recalled: “I had no clock and faced south, so I made a sundial with a piece of wire-a wire rooster on a vertical rod with radiating lines indicating the hours. I’d made things out of wire before-jewelry, toys-but this was my first attempt to represent an animal in wire.”

These playful wire animals and figures occupied him for the next five years and beyond. Calder’s cleverly designed creatures and characters, toy-like works that today might be called “action figures” from their uncanny ability to ape natural postures and motions, gained particular notice in Paris, where he now made regular visits. Calder’s amusing creations were able to mimic a frog’s jump, or the way a duck bobs forward. Eventually, the artist assembled a troupe of these wire sculptures into his Circus, a miniature wire-frame big top populated by delightful carnival performers and circus animals, which Calder brought to life in impromptu performances in his apartment (and for which he sometimes charged a fee to pay the rent). Soon, the American expatriate’s exuberant Circus nights became a much-sought-after diversion for the Parisian avant-garde.

In an article for the New York Herald in 1927, Calder wrote: “It seems that during all of this time I could never forget my training at Stevens, for I started experimenting with toys in a mechanical way. I could not experiment with a mechanism, as it was too expensive and too bulky, so I built miniature instruments. From that the toy idea suggested itself to me, so I figured I might as well turn my efforts to something that would bring remuneration.”
The Engineer Behind Calder’s Art from Mechanical Engineering Magazine

Alexander Calder’s circus

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Written by aterrier

June 15, 2008 at 11:06 am

Posted in art

Tagged with ,

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