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Calder’s Circus


Alexander Calder, Calder’s Circus, 1926–31. Wire, wood, metal, cloth, yarn, paper, cardboard, leather, string, rubber tubing, corks, buttons, rhinestones, pipe cleaners, and bottle caps, 54 × 94 1/4 × 94 1/4 in. (137.2 × 239.4 × 239.4 cm) overall, dimensions variable. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from a public fundraising campaign in May 1982. One half the funds were contributed by the Robert Wood Johnson Jr. Charitable Trust. Additional major donations were given by The Lauder Foundation, the Robert Lehman Foundation Inc., the Howard and Jean Lipman Foundation Inc., an anonymous donor, The T. M. Evans Foundation Inc., MacAndrews & Forbes Group Incorporated, the DeWitt Wallace Fund Inc., Martin and Agneta Gruss, Anne Phillips, Mr. and Mrs. Laurance S. Rockefeller, the Simon Foundation Inc., Marylou Whitney, Bankers Trust Company, Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth N. Dayton, Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz, Irvin and Kenneth Feld, Flora Whitney Miller. More than 500 individuals from 26 states and abroad also contributed to the campaign  83.36.1-95  On view in the museum  On view in the museum
© 2009 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; photograph © Whitney Museum of American Art.
Alexander Calder’s miniature Calder’s Circus is a sculpture that consists of more than seventy small figures and animals and nearly 100 accessories such as nets, flags, carpets, and lamps. He also used more than thirty musical instruments, records, and noisemakers. Calder had created each character and prop by hand, and he would make these figures move and interact with each other in performances of the work that he staged for his friends and family. Calder combined his lifelong fascination with motion and his engineering skills to create his circus figures and the devices that made them move.

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Lion and Cage from Calder’s CircusPlay
Lion and Cage
Excerpt from Le Grand Cirque Calder 1927 (1955). 16mm, color, sound (French); 45 min. Directed by Jean Painlevé with Geneviève Hamon, assistant; cinematography by Claude Beausoleil; sound direction by Freddy Baume. Le Grand Cirque Calder 1927 is in the archives of Les Documents Cinématographiques, Paris, under the directorship of Brigitte Berg.
MORE WORK BY Alexander Calder
Alexander Calder, Calder’s Circus, 1926–31. Installation view
Circuses have existed since ancient Rome, but the modern circus with a ring in the center and seats around it began in the late eighteenth century. Listen to some Big Apple Circus stars talk about what it is like to be a circus performer today.
“There was of course a Ringmaster in high form with a body made out of cork and a piece of cardboard, dressed in tails. He carried a whistle for stopping the music to make announcements, and a mouth organ for bugle sounds to announce the arrival of someone important.”

—Alexander Calder

Did Alexander Calder give performances of Calder’s Circus?
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