Calder's Storm King Showcase
Innovative Sculptor's Larger Works Get a Summer Home
Listen to the report from All Things Considered
View a photo gallery of Calder's work
Aug. 14, 2001 -- Alexander Calder was one of the first artists to make sculpture move. His hanging works of wire and metal inspired a whole genre of art called the mobile, and he is rightly considered one of the finest American artists of this century.
But the mobile was just one facet of Calder's artistic legacy. Apart from the thousands of mobiles credited to Calder, he also was renowned for his large scale standing sculptures.
The largest exhibition ever of his free-standing sculptures is the summer centerpiece of the Storm King Art Center, a 500-acre sculpture park in Mountainville, N.Y. NPR's Karen Michel reports that the wide-open spaces are a fitting showcase for sculptures just as influential and important as the ones swinging free from countless gallery ceilings.
A Brilliant Career
July 22, 1898: Calder is born in Lawnton, Pennsylvania, to Nanette Lederer Calder, a painter, and Alexander Stirling Calder, a sculptor.
1922: Calder sails from New York to San Francisco. During the voyage, he wakes to an inspirational vision: A brilliant sun and a full moon on opposite horizons.
1926: Calder moves to Paris and establishes a studio, where he begins to experiment with wire sculpture and creates his famed "Cirque Calder" sculptures.
1931: Artist Marcel Duchamp suggests calling Calder's new moving creations "mobiles," a pun in French referring to both motion and motive.
1943: The New York Museum of Modern Art exhibits a major retrospective -- Alexander Calder: Sculptures and Constructions
1952: Calder represents the United States in the XXVI Biennale di Venezia, where he wins the Grand Prize for sculpture.
1965: Calder, a member of Artists for SANE (Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy), participates in a march in Washington, D.C., to protest against the Vietnam War.
1977: A year after his death, the Whitney Museum of American Art exhibits Calder's Universe, a major retrospective.
What's unusual about the Storm King exhibit is the scale. Calder fashioned each piece to work in harmony with the setting -- usually in cities, where buildings and streets provided the context.
The open spaces of the art park allow the viewer to see the sculptures in a wide-open context, and the difference in scenery can be striking, says David Collins, the art park's executive director.
Calder, who died in 1976, was eccentric even by artistic standards. His entire wardrobe centered around two wool shirts -- both bright red -- that he wore to dinner parties as well as his own studio.
Born to a family of artists, he worked as an insurance salesman, rototiller salesman and a merchant marine before deciding to become an artist full time.
Calder's grandson Alexander "Sandy" Rower, who helps to keep alive the late artist's vision, says Calder wanted people to enjoy his work. "People would burst out laughing," Rower told Michel, "and he loved that."
Like his mobiles, Calder's free-standing works play with space and balance, Rower said. "His philosophy is about harmony, (and) that's what his work is about."
Learn more about the Storm King Art Center
Find a comprehensive biography, photos of his most famous mobiles and more at the Calder Foundation Web site