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, scale model, 1963, stabile, 58x43x36 cm.

Alexander Calder and Joan Miró at the opening of the Calder retrospective at the Maeght Foundation, 1969.

Each exhibition is the occasion of joyful reunions and memorable parties. The Maeght girls are always present. At the Maeghts, he is in the family, he finds his friend Joan Miró. The complicity between the two artists is such that it is perceptible in their tribute works.

Another man shares their poetic universe, Prévert, who, better than anyone else, knows how to capture and share with the simplicity of his words, the magic of the iron bird. Each uses basic elements to deliver his complex art. Simplicity of colors for Miró, of forms for Calder and of words for Prévert. The book of bibliophily Fêtes is the best illustration of this proximity of thought between Calder and Prévert.
Alexander Calder, Portrait of Florence Maeght, 1969, felt pen on guest book.

"Calder is freedom. Freedom that cannot be static. And Calder invented mobiles so that freedom could move." Carlos Franqui, Behind The Mirror, 1971.
View of the Calder exhibition 1954.

"It would seem that the invention of the mobile, forty years ago, by the engineer Calder, is situated somewhere between those of oil painting and wireless telegraphy. Indeed, as did the easel painting in the 15th century, the mobile introduced a new type of plastic object, but this object proved to be above all, like the radio receiver, an instrument of deciphering the invisible, which played a not insignificant role in the overcoming of the art of the "pure visibility" that had instituted the Renaissance." Maurice Besset, Derrière Le Miroir, 1973.

View of the exhibition of Stabiles by Alexander Calder at the Maeght Gallery, 1959.