Alexander Calder – art in motion

“Just as one can compose colors, or forms, so one can compose motions.”  Alexander Calder

Even if the name Alexander Calder means nothing to you, it is likely you are familiar with the Flensted mobiles that are sold in museums, galleries and trendy design shops across the world and which imitate his work.

Alexander Calder (1898 – 1976) was an American sculptor who was the first to use wire to create three-dimensional line “drawings” of people, animals, and objects.  Yet today the work of Alexander Calder has been largely forgotten and become critically under appreciated.  The new exhibition at the Tate Modern sets out to rectify this by focusing on Calder’s pioneering approach to sculpture.  He was the first artist to introduce movement into sculpture and by doing so he challenged many traditional assumptions about the medium.   The exhibition puts a spotlight on his work from the 1930s and 1940s, when he created non-mechanized hanging, standing and wall-mounted mobiles, whose movements were driven by natural air currents.

Calder began using wire to produce linear portraits and figurative sculptures in the mid-1920s after he had left Art College and first introduced movement into his work in a performance piece called Calder’s Circus, where he set in motion the many different characters and animals he had created.  Unfortunately Calder’s Circus is not included in the exhibition because it cannot travel, but it is on permanent display at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.  Calder later began to produce motorized works which eventually evolved into the hanging pieces we know today as his “mobiles”.  A real turning point for Calder came when he visited Piet Modrian’s studio in Paris in 1930.  What he saw inspired him to move from figuration to abstraction and led him to create what are now considered some of his greatest works.

The exhibition space at the Tate Modern is perfect for Calder’s work; the large airy rooms allow the mobiles to floating in the space they require to show off their inherent beauty.   They move hypnotically, throwing shadows on the white walls and creating a spectral kind of shadow theatre in each gallery.  There are around 100 works spread over 11 galleries and at times if feels as if these eerie, ethereal structures live and breathe the space they occupy.

This is the first major retrospective of Alexander Calder’s work to be held in the UK and it is a delight to see his delicately, balanced arrangements displayed to such great effect.

Alexander Calder – Performing Sculpture is on at the Tate Modern in London until 3rd April 2016.  For more information visit: