NARRATOR: This wire portrait head has comically busy eyebrows—and a truly remarkable nose. It’s Jimmy Durante, a vaudeville comedian, singer, and actor who became an international star in the 1920s. Not surprisingly, a lot of his jokes were about what he called his “schnozzola.”
Alexander Calder began making wire portraits soon after his 1926 move to Paris. Many were caricatures like this one. He also made a number of portraits of the avant-garde artists and musicians who became his friends. All of these works communicate a tremendous amount of personality—even though the sculpture is nothing but steel wire.
Calder studied engineering in college, and became very comfortable with industrial materials. But his first job out of school was as a newspaper illustrator. There he developed a tremendous ability to make funny, evocative line drawings. In his wire sculpture, he drew on both aspects of this background.