© Alexander Calder / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY.

Alexander Calder: Calder’s Circus

Though Alexander Calder was known primarily for his abstract mobiles, his first major body of work was a multipart toy theater piece: Cirque Calder (also known as Calder’s Circus). While living in Paris, Calder applied his training as a mechanical engineer to build small, mechanized circus figures that would fit easily inside a suitcase. Between 1926 and 1931, he built an entire circus troupe featuring more than 70 human and animal figures, as well as other carnival odds and ends like musical instruments, bubble-blowers, nets, flags, and carpets—filling five suitcases. These playful kinetic sculptures were built out of wire, wood, and found objects, and were hand-operated by Calder himself, who performed the circus for audiences of friends in Paris, including well-known artists like Marcel Duchamp, Joan Miró, and Piet Mondrian. Calder’s Circus is in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, but related works on paper and wire sketches are still available for collectors.

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