Alexander Calder was a great American artist of the twentieth century. His paintings, jewelry, lithographs, toys and performances continue to inspire the world, so many years after his passing in November 1976. Although he was probably best known for inventing the mobile, his wonderful circus performances continue to inspire puppeteers even today. My fist memories of Calder go back to my student days in France in the early eighties. As a student at the Institute International de la Marionnette in Charleville-Mezieres, I used to spend many weekends researching the work of Calder and his colleagues at the Centre Pompidou library in Paris. They even had an old film of the magical Calder Circus. Today thanks to You Tube, we no longer have to go to the library in Paris, but can discover these great artists in the comfort of our own homes.
While living and working in Paris, Alexander Calder met and became friends with a number of avant-garde artists, including Joan Miró, Jean Arp, and Marcel Duchamp. A visit to Piet Mondrian's studio in 1930 "shocked" him into embracing abstract art.
The Calder Circus can be seen as the start of Calder's interest in both wire sculpture and kinetic art. He maintained a sharp eye with respect to the engineering balance of the sculptures and utilized these to develop the kinetic sculptures Duchamp would ultimately dub as "mobiles," a French pun meaning both "mobile" and "motive." He designed some of the characters in the circus to perform suspended from a thread. However, it was the mixture of his experiments to develop purely abstract sculpture following his visit with Mondrian that lead to his first truly kinetic sculptures, manipulated by means of cranks and pulleys.