When sculptor Alexander Calder, 76, peers out from beneath his bushy white eyebrows, he has to grumpily admit that 1974 has been his best year ever—mainly because city after U.S. city discovered that Calder’s gigantic abstractions are just the ticket to fill the void left by urban renewal and the passing from fashion of granite generals on horseback.
Over the past 18 months, more than $1,000,000 in massive Calders have gone up in Hartford, Fort Worth, Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington. When Chicago dedicated its 53-ft.-high sculpture, the city was so delighted it staged a circus parade in the artist’s honor.
Mayor Daley is not Calder’s only surprise convert. Another is President Gerald Ford. Soon after Grand Rapids unveiled its 43-ft.-high Calder, then-Rep. Ford rose in the House to confess: “At the time, I did not know what a Calder was. But I can assure the members that a Calder… has really helped regenerate a city.” (The sculpture’s success is also credited with having changed Ford’s vote on funding the National Endowment for the Arts.)
Calder is not surprised that his countrymen should cotton to “mobiles,” the word he uses for his moving sculpture. After all, Americans had been making them for centuries—as whirligigs and weather vanes—just for fun. When Calder’s commissions called for even bigger works, some of them six stories tall, he invented “stabiles”—rigid, bolted structures using bridge-building and skyscraper techniques.
A Philadelphia sculptor’s son and a born bohemian, Calder naturally gravitated to France in the 1920s where he and his wife and daughters now live in a Calder-designed house. Touches of francophile whimsy still show up in his titles. Grand Rapids’ La Grande Vitesse just might translate as the city’s name, but Chicago wanted something like Great Wind for its monumental “stabile.” However, Flamingo is how Calder conceived it, and so Flamingo it stands—all 30 soaring tons of it.