Calder Foundation

Featured Text

Objects to Art Being Static, So He Keeps It in Motion

New York World-Telegram, 11 June 1932.

Sculptor Presses Button and Motor Does Its Duty—Hatpin Is Part of Exhibit—Works Have No Titles

“Why must art be static?” demanded Alexander Calder calmly as he closed his exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery today. “You look at an abstraction, sculptured or painted, an intensely 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.” At this point Mr. Calder pushed a button.

Two white balls went into motion against the background of a black packing box. One ball went up and down like a yo-yo top, the other revolved counter-clockwise at the end of a piece of string. The entire sculpture was mounted on a White Rock case, painted white, and a small flywheel, operated by electric power, controlled the strings.

No Utility, No Meaning.

“Quite a handsome motion,” Mr. Calder observed complacently. He parried a suggestion that the vertically moving ball resembled those in a shooting gallery.

“The balls in a shooting gallery move for a utilitarian purpose,” he said. “This has no utility and no meaning. It is simply beautiful. It has a great emotional effect if you understand it. Of course if it meant anything it would be easier to understand, but it would not be worthwhile.”

Other examples of Mr. Calder’s latest creations adorned the severely modern exhibition room. One consisted of a sickle shaped wire and something like a hatpin topped by a billiard ball. The sickle rotated slowly, the hatpin vibrated fast. The engine sputtered.

“The motors are not so good,” said the sculptor. “I had my choice between perfecting a motor for one or two things or going on to new creations. I preferred to go on creating.”

The sculptor, ex-engineer, painter and artificer of simplified portraits in wire and wool, is a middle-aged man, who wears shapeless tweeds and sandals. His hair is graying and his mouth is usually half-open in a guileless, sleepy smile. The lashes of the right eye are black, the left gray.

To the catalog of his works—a series of diagrams, for the items have no titles and he finds it easier to draw than describe them—is a quotation from the Parisian authority, F. Léger.

Not Sculpture, Some Say.

“Before his recent works, which are transparent, objective and exact, I think of Satie, Mondrian, Marcel Duchamp, Brancusi, Arp—those incontestable masters of an inexpressive and silent beauty. Calder belongs to this line.”

“The pigeon is rather a dumb animal,” said the incontestable master. “Yet it has a handsome motion. To enjoy that motion, why must I tolerate an unspotted squab?

“Some critics say that this is not sculpture, because in order to appreciate its beauties you have to turn on an electric switch.

“Well, that is true of any sort of plastic art at night. You have to turn on an electric switch to see it.”

Featured Texts 49

Calder, Alexander. “Comment réaliser l’art?Abstraction-Création, Art Non Figuratif, no. 1 (1932).

Magazine

Calder, Alexander. “Que ça bouge—À propos des sculptures mobiles.” Manuscript, 8 March 1932. Calder Foundation, New York.

Unpublished Document or Manuscript

Calder, Alexander. “Un ‘Mobile.’” Abstraction-Création, Art Non Figuratif, no. 2 (1933).

Magazine

Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Modern Painting and Sculpture: Alexander Calder, George L.K. Morris, Calvert Coggeshall, Alma de Gersdorff Morgan. Exhibition catalogue. 1933.

Alexander Calder, Statement

Group Exhibition Catalogue
Related Timeline
1930–1936 Shift to Abstraction

Following a visit in October of 1930 to Piet Mondrian’s studio, where he was impressed by the environmental installation, Calder made his first wholly abstract compositions and invented the kinetic sculpture now known as the mobile. Coined for these works by Marcel Duchamp in 1931, the word “mobile” refers to both “motion” and “motive” in French. He also created stationary abstract works that Jean Arp dubbed “stabiles.”