Alexander Calder, Object with Red Discs, 1931. Painted steel rod, wire, wood, and sheet aluminum, 88 1/2 × 33 × 47 1/2 in. (224.8 × 83.8 × 120.7 cm) overall. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Mrs. Percy Uris Purchase Fund 86.49a-c
NARRATOR: Alexander Calder’s Object with Red Discs is a fascinating study in movement and balance. A pyramidal base grounds a long steel rod, which serves as the sculpture’s axis. A black wooden ball at its bottom serves as a counterweight to five projecting wires, each capped by a red aluminum disc. Many of the sculpture’s joints are open pivot points, so it’s able to swing and rotate playfully.
Calder made this work at a time when he was just developing his idea of moving sculpture in Calder’s Circus. He was further inspired by a 1930 visit to the Paris studio of the Dutch abstract painter Piet Mondrian. On the walls of Mondrian’s studio were pieces of cardboard that he’d painted, intending to explore the relations of pure shape and color. Calder later described the experience of seeing them as a shock and a revelation. Abstraction wasn’t entirely new to Calder, but it now made sense to him in a new way. Calder imagined Mondrian’s cardboard pieces moving, or in Calder’s more technical, engineering language: “oscillating.” He wondered what would happen if these forms could really move. The thought soon inspired him to develop abstract sculptures with moving parts like this one.
Audio Guide Stop: Designer Karim Rasheed on Alexander Calder’s Object with Red Discs, 1931
NARRATOR: Alexander Calder called this work Object with Red Discs. That’s a minimal, bare-bones title. Yet when New York designer Karim Rashid looks at it, he sees something spiritual.
KARIMRASHID: The first impression I receive when I look at Object with Red Discs is a feeling of universality. The work is a discussion of the cosmos.
NARRATOR: First, look at the base of the sculpture: you can see it takes the shape of a pyramid.
KARIMRASHID: The pyramid is one of the strongest forms that exists in the sense of spiritualism. The heavy weight of the ball that’s centered between a pyramid obviously is very spiritual, and alludes to icons of spirituality, the perfect sphere which represents in a sense in the abstraction of art the soul, and once again, the whole, kind of a holistic idea about humanity.
NARRATOR: Notice how the smaller discs higher up seem to be floating in space.
KARIMRASHID: That every sphere is different also speaks about our larger cosmos, of the relationship of different size planets and stars and universes. And the piece, the nature of it—as in most of Calder’s work—is a feeling of pleasure and a feeling of uplifted, elevated experience.