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These activities focus on works of art in the Whitney’s collection and special exhibitions. Through discussion, research, art making, and writing activities, we hope to encourage close looking, foster conversation between students, and connect artwork to classroom learning. Learn about our four artist-centered themes.

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Imagine a Circus.

Calder’s Circus consists of an elaborate troupe of over seventy diminutive figures and animals, nearly one hundred accessories such as carpets and lamps, and over thirty musical instruments, phonographic records, and noisemakers. The audience would sit on a low bed or crates, munching peanuts and using Alexander Calder’s noisemakers while he choreographed, directed, and performed Calder’s Circus act by act, each a complete narrative scene. Accompanied by music and lighting, performances could last as long as two hours while trapeze artists flew through the air, a strongman slowly lifted a barbell, and acrobats catapulted through space. 

Divide your students into small groups. Ask each group to come up with a list of possible characters, performers, and animals they might find at a circus. As a class, collect their ideas. Ask them to reflect further on what the circus might look like, or where it might take place. What sights, sounds, and smells might they expect? What might be surprising about a circus performance?

Alexander Calder, Calder’s Circus, 1926–31  83.36.1-95  On view For Teachers