ADAMWEINBERG: Alexander Calder magically breathed life into inanimate objects, using wire and recycled materials to create this army of circus characters. Beginning in 1927, Calder performed the Circus in Paris, New York and elsewhere. He would issue invitations to his guests, who would sit on makeshift bleachers, munching peanuts, just like the real circus. With the crash of cymbals and music from an old gramophone, the Circus would begin. Calder was the impresario and circus ringmaster. He announced the acts, animated the figures, and provided a running narration of the action. Nearby, you can see a video of Calder performing the Circus.
Many of the individual circus animals and performers include mechanized parts—Calder was originally trained as a mechanical engineer. It wasn’t the tricks or gimmicks of the circus that appealed to Calder, but the dynamic movement of bodies in space. He first went to the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circus in 1925. He was inspired by the mechanics of the circus and made hundreds of drawings of the equipment and the ropes and the guy wires for the tents.
Later in his career, Calder turned his attention to more abstract work. In 1930, he visited the studio of artist Piet Mondrian. He was delighted with Mondrian’s work, and later recalled, “I thought at the time how fine it would be if everything there moved.” He went on to invent the mobile and other works of moving sculpture.