Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

Art Selection

Throughout his life, Alexander Calder (1898-1976) made over 2,000 pieces of jewelry radically built of humble materials—brass, silver and steel wire, along with wood, string, glass, and ceramic—not the precious gold and polished gemstones traditional to the medium. Often made as gifts and presented with the artist’s mobiles and other work, the pieces are modeled like maquettes or compact sketches for kinetic sculpture, incorporating moving elements and found objects scaled to the body. In the 1940s and 1950s, the world stage for emerging art shifted from Europe to New York City, and Alexander Calder held the singular position of having worked among the modernists in Paris in the late 1920s/early 1930s and the Abstract Expressionists in New York following his return to the United States in 1933. Calder’s forays into jewelry began as early as 1929, mostly as gifts for intimate friends and family. Eventually, openings of his exhibitions were animated by women sporting select works from their collections of Calder Jewelry.

No other statement-making jewelry more fully captures the term “wearable art” than the personal adornments made by Alexander Calder. His earrings, necklaces and bracelets were mini-mobiles that dangled from the wrists, necks and earlobes of art-world sophisticates like Peggy Guggenheim and Mary Rockefeller. Calder’s jewelry appealed to women with avant-garde tastes who liked to make a dramatic entrance. Donning a piece of Calder jewelry—like wearing a mobile—the body performs and enacts the gestures and mission of the sculptural framework. All are one-of-a-kind objets d’art. Calder had many opportunities to sign off on reproductions, and always refused. For Calder, artistic invention also transcended categories and permeated every aspect of his life. He brought the same genius for design and motion to his jewelry that elevated his mobiles into a realm of singular innovation. Calder was an inveterate and incurable tinkerer; never happier than with tools and material at hand, and this insatiable impulse to create is as evident in his jewelry as in his sculptures. Being influenced by Mondrian and Miro, Calder’s paintings and jewelry exhibit the same sense of buoyancy, wit and whimsy as his sculpture, which convey a sense of movement through the use of a single, unbroken line. The shape, color and abstraction employed by Calder capture life-like movement imbued with consistent joy. Alexander Calder is a giant in modern art and had a long, prolific career producing more that 16,000 works of art, an average of one work a day for 50 years.

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James Carona: jim@heatherjames.com