Alexander Calder, the magician of iron

Alexander Calder , The Reinforcements, at the Maeght Foundation

Before Calder, everyone was unaware that a mobile was a sculpture in motion. We owe the invention of the term to Marcel Duchamp...

"Christian Zervos, who published Cahiers d'Art, very kindly put me in contact with Aimé Maeght, who had a very good gallery in the 8th arrondissement. I brought many of Roxbury's mobiles to Maeght and had an exhibition there in June 1950, following a Miró exhibition. This marked the beginning of a long association with Aimé. Towards the end of the Miró exhibition, Maeght invited us all to dinner at a restaurant. Guiguitte and I danced a polka when the orchestra started playing one. We became very popular and were applauded." So says Alexander Calder in his autobiography.
From then on he became an intimate member of the Maeght family. To entertain the sick Bernard, Alexander and his wife Louisa, come to give performances of the Circus in the Parisian apartment of Maeght. It is a real miniature circus, made of wire and fabric, with its big top, its animals, its acrobats, its clowns and all its extras, all animated and manipulated by a Calder, a beast trainer, imitating all the voices.

The four suitcases containing The Circus by Alexander Calder.

Alexander Calder operating The Circus during the Calder retrospective at the Maeght Foundation, 1969.

Fernand Léger, whose moustachioed portrait Calder would make in wire, striking in its resemblance, "blew away", amazed by the contrast between his work, so thin, so transparent, so mobile, and the hundred-kilo man: "It's something like a walking tree trunk (...) It belongs outside in the wind, in the sun.

Oiseau aux roubignolles, 1930, wire, 22.5x27 cm.
In fact, rarely has a work corresponded so much to its author. His mobiles and stabiles are so many winks, laughs and joviality, in the image of the character of the American giant. The man also knows how to commit himself to great causes and to speak out, in the United States, against the Vietnam War, making a poster denouncing the horrors of this war.

Alexander Calder, Man, 1967, stabile for the city of Montreal, 21x33 meters.

Aimé is convinced by his work and puts all his means at the artist's disposal. "I had an exhibition of ten big stabiles at Maeght in February 1959. Madame Maeght, who was very enthusiastic about these objects, was quite surprised and she said to me : "You had to scrape your brains to find that?" Maeght must have agreed with Guiguitte because he bought the whole exhibition from me, in bulk, and in cash, before the opening; it was the first time a dealer had treated me like that." Calder designed another huge stabile, "Les renforts" for the gardens of the Foundation. His first retrospective exhibition took place there in 1969, he had fun creating everything around it, including elements of the catalog, and said: "I did a big retrospective at the Maeght Foundation, it was very nice to collaborate with Aimé and Sert. I considered this exhibition almost the end of the ends."

Alexander Calder, Les Renforts, maquette, 1963, stabile, 58x43x36 cm.

Alexander Calder et Joan Miró lors du vernissage de la rétrospective Calder à la Fondation Maeght, 1969.

Alexander Calder, Affiche pour la Galerie Maeght , 1973, lithographie originale, 80 x48 cm.
Chaque exposition est l’occasion de joyeuses retrouvailles et de fêtes mémorables. Les filles Maeght sont toujours présentes. Chez les Maeght, il est en famille, il y retrouve son ami Joan Miró. La complicité entre les deux artistes est telle qu’elle est perceptible dans leurs œuvres-hommages.
Un autre homme partage leur univers poétique, Prévert, qui, mieux que quiconque, sait capter et faire partager avec la simplicité de ses mots, la magie de l’oiseleur de fer. Chacun utilise des éléments basiques pour nous livrer son art complexe. Simplicité des couleurs pour Miró, des formes pour Calder et des mots pour Prévert. Le livre de bibliophilie Fêtes est la meilleure illustration de cette proximité de pensée entre Calder et Prévert.
Alexander Calder, Portrait de Florence Maeght, 1969, feutre sur livre d’or.
«Calder, c’est la liberté. La liberté qui ne peut pas être statique. Et Calder a inventé les mobiles pour que la liberté bouge. » Carlos Franqui, Derrière Le Miroir, 1971

Vue de l’exposition Calder 1954.
« On dirait volontiers que l’invention du mobile, il y a quarante ans, par l’ingénieur Calder, se situe quelque part entre celles de la peinture à l’huile et de la télégraphie sans fil. En effet, comme le fit au XVe siècle le tableau de chevalet, le mobile a introduit un type inédit d’objet plastique, mais cet objet s’est révélé être avant tout, comme le récepteur radio, un instrument de déchiffrement de l’invisible, qui a joué un rôle non négligeable dans le dépassement de l’art de la “pure visibilité” qu’avait institué la Renaissance. » Maurice Besset, Derrière Le Miroir,1973

Vue de l’exposition de Stabiles d’Alexander Calder à la galerie Maeght, 1959.