Alexander Calder is an artist best known for his amazing mobiles. But one of his lesser known, but equally incredible creations is the Cirque Calder – a miniature circus of wire figures and creatures created by the artist in Paris between 1926 and 1931. Calder’s fascination with the circus began in 1925 when he spent two weeks sketching at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. A year later he began to make the first characters of Cirque Calder, giving miniature performances for friends all over Paris. Everyone was so impressed and amused by the circus, and Calder had so much fun making it himself, that he continued to work on the project for five more years.
At its height, the Cirque Calder consisted of dozens of wire-frame acrobats, trapeze artists, exotic dancers, a knife-thrower, sword-swallower and performing animals which were rigged with thread, pulleys, cranks and springs to tumble, gallop, lift, gyrate and even catch each other in mid-air! Calder spent most of the 1920’s and 1930’s travelling between North America and Europe putting on shows with his “circus in a suitcase.”
Made of wood, bronze, cork, fabric scraps, beads, and bits of jewellery, each figure and animal in the performance has its own personality. Each performer is the perfect mix of toy and sculpture. Some of the most incredible figures include the weightlifter, who can bend, pick up a set of weights, straighten up and put the weights down; the trapeze artists who can swing and catch each other in mid-air with precision; the ambulence unit who are able to walk when pulled by a thread; and the horses pulling chariots that mimic galloping while their charioteers bend back and forth in the act of whipping them.
Cirque Calder is on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York where it is on extended loan.
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