Cover image for Alexander Calder : the Paris years, 1926-1933
Alexander Calder : the Paris years, 1926-1933
Publication Information:
New York : Whitney Museum of American Art ; Paris : Centre Pomidou ; New Haven : Yale University Press, c2008.
Physical Description:
304 p. : ill. (some col.) ; 28 cm.
A Whitney Museum of American Art book
General Note:
Published on the occasion of the exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
Alexander Calder : the Paris years / Joan Simon -- Plates : Caricatures, portraits, figures -- Calder the illustrator : corporeal writing to organic sign / Brigitte Leal -- Plates : Animals, toys, circus -- Calder as artist-engineer : vectors, velocities / Henry Petroski -- The search for ubiquity : Calder and the reproduction of his works, 1927-32 / Quentin Bajac -- Clader's once and future circus : a conservator's perspective / Eleonora Nagy with Carol Mancusi-Ungaro -- The alchemist : Alexander Calder and surrealism / Pepe Karmel -- Parisian metamorphosis in four acts / Annie Cohen-Solal -- Painting and working in the abstract : Calder's oeuvre and constructive art / Arnauld Pierre -- Plates : Abstraction -- Chronology / Alexander S.C. Rower.
"A team of international scholars discusses Calder?s many innovations of this period, chief among them his abstract, motorized, and mobile works. They analyze the extended cast of Calder?s animated Circus, made in Paris between 1926 and 1931, and include previously unpublished photographs by Brassaï and Kertesz of Calder and this beloved performative sculpture. The essays critically explore the intellectual, cultural, and artistic milieu of Paris in the late 1920s and early 1930s and the contexts of Calder?s friendships with Miró, Mondrian, Duchamp, and Man Ray, among others"


Material Type
Shelf Number
Book NB237.C28S56 2008 1

On Order



In 1926, Alexander Calder (1898-1976) moved from New York to Paris and began to use time and motion as "materials" for animating line and space. Calder's years in Paris--an understudied part of the artist's career--is the focus of this marvelous publication.


A team of international scholars discusses Calder's many innovations of this period, chief among them his abstract, motorized, and mobile works. They analyze the extended cast of Calder's animated Circus, made in Paris between 1926 and 1931, and include previously unpublished photographs by Brassa#65533; and Kertesz of Calder and this beloved performative sculpture. The essays critically explore the intellectual, cultural, and artistic milieu of Paris in the late 1920s and early 1930s and the contexts of Calder's friendships with Mir#65533;, Mondrian, Duchamp, and Man Ray, among others. What emerges in this fascinating book is a nuanced and detailed understanding of how Calder's distinctive career first took flight.


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Calder, who arrived in Paris in 1926 as an Ashcan School realist painter with a degree in engineering, came into his own there as a central figure of the Modern movement. He became known in avant-garde circles for his wire figures and portraits (many represented here), toys and jewelry. Between 1926 and 1931, he built the 70 figures that compose Calder's Circus, which he displayed through 1961. A visit to Piet Mondrian's studio in 1930 provided a shock that started the abstract explorations that led to the mobiles for which he is best known. Simon and Leal, curators respectively at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Pompidou Center, collect eight essays in this catalogue for an exhibition opening in October at the Whitney; the writings examine Calder as illustrator, surrealist and abstractionist. His Circus is examined in depth by Eleonora Nagy, its conservator, and Henry Petroski, who looking at Calder's engineering background likens the Circus in performance to the workings of an internal combustion engine. Both art professionals and the artist's many fans will find much to appreciate here. 235 color and 87 b&w illus. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

New York Review of Books Review

WHAT'S the big idea? If you consumed magazine advertising during the late 1950s and early '60s, you might recall there was a shift from the straightforward hawking of goods, using often humorless and ham-handed promotional tools - trade characters, slogans, testimonials, romanticized and idealized illustrations - to surprisingly ironic, convention-busting campaigns (for example, the one for the Volkswagen "lemon"). On Madison Avenue this was called "the creative revolution," and the weapon of choice was "the big idea," or what George Lois, one of the leading revolutionaries, describes in GEORGE LOIS ON HIS CREATION OF THE BIG IDEA (Assouline, $50) as a new method of working "with words and images that catch people's eyes, penetrate their minds, warm their hearts and cause them to act." This sounds de rigueur for admen today. But when Lois, born in 1931 to Greek immigrants, started plying his craft, the oldschool (WASPy) advertising industry was rather staid and artless. Lois and his mentors, like Paul Rand and Reba Sochis, and colleagues like Helmut Krone, Gene Federico and Lou Dorfsman represented the first wave of "ethnic" men and women mostly New Yorkers - who joined agencies like William H. Weintraub and Doyle Dane Bernbach or started their own small firms. They worked in creative teams, each made up of a copywriter and a designer/art director. Lois was an art director, though he didn't limit himself simply to layout or picture making. He conceived really big ideas for old and new brands and sometimes used theatrical presentations to make certain his clients would accept them. A big idea was nothing unless it was published. And for Lois, nothing was more revolutionary than forcing "a conservative, indoctrinated society" to look at the world differently - albeit through his eyes. Still, given its agenda, advertising was always a double-edged sword, mixing art and commerce. Over the years Lois has published a number of greatest-hits collections, featuring the "When You Got It, Flaunt It!" ads for Braniff International, in which he presented "the world's oddest couples" (like the poet Marianne Moore and the pulp novelist Mickey Spillane, who talked about writing), and the "I Want My MTV" promos. For MTV he persuaded Mick Jagger to appear in a commercial, which helped turn around the fortunes of what was then a fledgling cable network. Although many familiar ads are repeated in this new book, the stories of their geneses are often illuminating. The adman George Lois says Andy Warhol's devouring by a soup can, an Esquire cover From 1969, was inspired by Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saints appearance atop Mount Rushmore in "North by Northwest," 1959. Lois frequently gives the impression that his best work was instinctive, but "The Big Idea" reveals him to be a savvy connoisseur of high and low art. During his five-decade career, he has tapped into African, Asian, pre-Columbian, Renaissance and modern art, among other things, for inspiration. Almost all his work contains historical or cultural references. For example, he conceived nearly 100 Esquire magazine covers in the '60s and early '70s; one of the most famous, which showed Andy Warhol drowning in a can of Campbell's soup, was based on a scene in "North by Northwest" in which Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint are dwarfed by the gigantic presidential busts on Mount Rushmore. "I stored the Lilliputian imagery in the computer in my head," he writes. And his "ugly Nauga," the mascot for UniRoyal's Naugahyde, was influenced by a tiny, mythic Japanese beast called a Shishi. Unlike old-school advertisements, Lois's had humanity. My favorite story is about the time he hired Joe Louis to pose in an ad for a brokerage firm (the first to advertise on television). The headline read "Edwards & Hanly - Where were you when I needed you?" It alluded to the fact that although Louis had earned $5 million during his boxing career and contributed a tidy sum to the American war effort in the '40s, by the '60s he was broke and being hounded by the I.R.S. "Using Joe was a powerfully subtle way of telling the world that he had been treated disgracefully by the government and that the boys at Edwards & Hanly were tuned in to the real world," Lois writes. "The commercial was an immediate sensation as the media exploded with TV interviews and articles about the almost forgotten champ and his mistreatment by an ungrateful Uncle Sam." Of course, not all big ideas were meant to right wrongs (most were intended to sell products), but Lois sometimes used advertising to help change popular attitudes. This book underscores the effectiveness of his methods. JAN TSCHICHOLD (1902-74) was as indispensable to modern typography as Lois was to modern advertising. However, unless you're a designer, an art director or a font wonk, you probably don't know his name, or how to pronounce it (CHICK-old). Nonetheless, his designs helped change the antiquated ways in which visual communication, including advertising and book publishing, was practiced in Germany in the 1920s and '30s, and they influenced most modern designers well into the second half of the 20th century. In his books and magazine articles, Tschichold codified what is called the "New Typography," characterized by sans-serif typefaces and asymmetrical composition. It was an unconventional style practiced by members of the Bauhaus, Russian Constructivist and De Stijl movements. ACTIVE LITERATURE: Jan Tschichold and New Typography (Hyphen Press/Princeton Architectural Press, $75), by Christopher Burke, a typeface designer and type historian, is not the first but is decidedly the most thorough biography published to date and sets in stone Tschichold's enormous contribution. Tschichold upended the design establishment in October 1925, when he guest-edited a special issue of Typographische Mitteilungen (Typographic News), which had always been fairly conservative, and showcased for the first time avant-garde designs from revolutionary Russia, Germany and elsewhere in Europe, making the case for their adoption by commercial artists. His October revolution was a rebuke to the German traditionalists who were weighed down with strict rules and illegible letter forms. Earlier in 1925 he had published a manifesto (which Burke uncovered and reprints here), arguing that typography must be precise, without ambiguity: "A communication should have the 1) briefest, 2) simplest, 3) most urgent form." The New Typography would employ "the simplest form" and "the minimum means." This notion of economy set the modern approach apart from the German blackletter tradition, but Tschichold went further in upsetting the status quo: "National typefaces (Fraktur, Textura, Old Slavonic) are excluded as generally incomprehensible and as leftovers from history." The New Typography admittedly had a leftist affinity, since much of Tschichold's early work was directly influenced by the Communist El Lissitzky and other left-wing designers. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Fraktur was rehabilitated as the national (or volk) letter, and the New Typography was tarred as culturally Bolshevik. Tschichold, who was arrested shortly after Hitler took office, left Germany for Switzerland later that year. The author's extensive research is not only a model for future design historians to follow, but it also fills in many gaps in the life and work of this seminal modern figure. Burke has unearthed a trove of printed and original material (sketches for typefaces, rough layouts for book-page designs) that has never been published, including designs for books and magazines that were lost to decay. Many of the designs, like Tschichold's 1927 poster for the Graphische Werbekunst (graphic advertising art) exhibition and his 1931 stencil Transito typeface, look as if they could have been done yesterday. In fact, some designers pretty much copy his work today. MOST people are familiar with Alexander Calder's large kinetic mobiles made of sheet metal and rods and with his grounded sculptures (called "stabiles"), like the red-painted steel "Crab" permanently installed outside the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Some might also know "Calder's Circus," featuring abstract performers made of cloth, wood and wire, which has been on display at the Whitney Museum in New York for more than 20 years. Despite that work's cartoonishness, probably very few know that Calder was an illustrator for The New York Times, The New York Herald, The Philadelphian and the Communist publication New Masses. In the '20s he worked for The National Police Gazette, a journal that made sport of scandal and crime, drawing scenes of people in places like Central Park and Coney Island, as well as caricatures of celebrity athletes. "Calder's affinity for the circus is often noted in relation to one of his Police Gazette illustrations," Joan Simon writes in the beautifully produced ALEXANDER CALDER: The Paris Years, 19261933 (Whitney Museum of American Art/ Centre Pompidou/Yale University, $60), edited with Brigitte Leal, which covers his formative years in Paris, where he broke from the Ashcan School tradition he had embraced at the Art Students League in New York. This smartly designed book, including a half-dozen essays by writers like Henry Petroski and Annie Cohen-Solal, serves as the catalog for a new exhibition at the Whitney exploring Calder's evolution from a repertorial cartoonist to a cartoon sculptor using wire as his medium. In addition to new studio photographs of his art, vintage newspaper clippings and documentary images of early work abound. There are also rare shots of Calder as a svelte young man (I had seen only the ones of him with a large physique and a shock of white hair). Although other artists have used wire imagery, Calder was its true originator. He said, "I think best in wire," and "I seemed to have a knack" for drawing "with a single line." His first wire figure, Simon writes, was "an abstracted rooster with radiating lines for feet," done in 1925. That same year he created a wire valentine for his mother. During his years in Paris, he made wire caricatures of Josephine Baker, Jimmy Durante and John D. Rockefeller playing golf. He also made wire toys and other wire animals, among them a pair of copulating pigs. Although these pieces are comparatively minor, the Paris period clearly leads to his larger work and bigger ideas. Jan Tschichold at Penguin Books in 1948; models for his Amsterdam type, left; and a 1925 issue of Typographische Mitteilungen, featuring his work on New Typography. Alexander Calder in 1929 with "Miss Tamara," a rubber dachsund made for the clown Albert Fratellini; left, his wire "Elephant," 1928. There's a similarity between Calder's wire animals and the paintings discovered in 1940 in the Lascaux cave in France, which were made somewhere around 20,000 years ago. Look at CAVE ART (Phaidon, $90), by Jean Clottes, a leading specialist in prehistoric art, and you might wonder if those old guys stole some of the modern movement's best ideas. A lot of art produced under the modern umbrella appears to have roots in the Aurignacian, Gravettian, Solutrean and Magdalenian cultures (Paleolithic societies named after the French sites "where they were first identified by their tools, weapons and adornments"). After his introduction, Clottes's text consists of extended captions explaining the photographs. Philippe Apeloig's elegant typographic design and the off-white paper handsomely frame the high-quality visuals. But talk about big ideas - you can't get any bigger than this first evidence of man-made pictorial representation. And these works do not appear all that primitive. The petroglyph of a group of giraffes from Niger, carved as if in the manner of a checkerboard about 10,000 years ago, and the scene of an archer hunting bears and reindeer, found in Norway in 1973, prefigure the reductive approach to design devised for information graphics in the 20th century; they also recall the minimalist glyphs used by Paul Klee and Joan Miró. While some of the art hints at Expressionism, Impressionism and even Surrealism, you have to wonder if the continuous-line images didn't somehow get channeled into Calder's wire. A stag in black charcoal, from a cave in Puente Viesgo, Spain, is some 20,000 years old.

Choice Review

This exhibition catalogue by Simon (Whitney Museum) and Leal (Pompidou Centre) presents wonderful works by Calder, one of the 20th century's finest sculptors and one of America's most innovative artists--specifically, works he created during his years in Paris, from the mid-1920s to 1933. At a time when surrealism was firmly established within the visual, cinematic, literary, and musical cultures of Paris, Calder's own inherent love of invention, playfulness, and dialogue with his creative imagination brought forth images and forms that would seed his oeuvre for years to come. Some 250 works, including those in wire and other metals, books and ephemera, drawings and photographs--many related to his famous Circus, mobiles, and all wondrous, fantastic, and joyful--create a magnificent panoply of bursting-forth energies, held together by the master's magic. The catalogue provides excellent reproductions of most of the exhibited works, along with documentary photographs. Fine essays include "The Paris Years," "Calder the Illustrator," "Calder as Artist-Engineer," "The Search for Ubiquity," "Calder's Once and Future Circus," "The Alchemist" (on surrealism), "Parisian Metamorphosis in Four-Acts," and "Painting and Working in the Abstract." Additional material includes a detailed chronology, listing of works in the exhibition, and selected exhibition history. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Modern art collections supporting upper-level undergraduates through faculty/researchers. J. Weidman Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art