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.