MoMA
Alexander Calder. A Universe. 1934
Alexander Calder

A Universe

1934
Not on view
Medium
Painted iron pipe, steel wire, motor, and wood with string
Dimensions
Overall: 40 1/2 x 30" (102.9 x 76.2 cm)
Credit
Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (by exchange)
Object number
163.1934
Copyright
© 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

"Just as one can compose colors, or forms, so one can compose motions," Calder stated shortly before making this work. One of Calder's first mechanized mobiles, A Universe presents his abstract vision of the cosmos. A small red sphere and a larger white one suggest planets and move along curved wire paths at different speeds, completing a full cycle in forty minutes. Calder constructed a motor that propelled the spheres' movements, using his training as a mechanical engineer.

Reflecting on his work of this period, Calder commented, "At that time and practically ever since, the underlying form in my work has been the system of the universe." His personal fascination with the solar system was part of a wider phenomenon, prompted in part by the discovery of Pluto in 1930. Calder's interest in astronomy and physics was not one-sided, however. When A Universe was first exhibited at the Museum, Albert Einstein reportedly stood transfixed in front of its slowly moving orbs for the entire forty–minute cycle.

Gallery label from Focus: Alexander Calder, 2007
Additional text

Calder’s objects, although they are threedimensional, lack the mass of traditional pedestal sculpture and possess the linearity of drawing. In them Calder was outlining volumes in space, “much as if the background paper of a drawing had been cut away leaving only the lines,” he said. Line, not merely indicating motion, is itself in motion, responding to air currents or to mechanical stimuli. (The balls of A Universe were meant to move up and down by means of a motor, not currently on view. The work is now too fragile to be in constant motion.)

Gallery label from On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century, November 21, 2010-February 7, 2011
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Image permissions

In order to effectively service requests for images, The Museum of Modern Art entrusts the licensing of images of works of art in its collections to the agencies Scala Archives and Art Resource. As MoMA’s representatives, these agencies supply high-resolution digital image files provided to them directly by the Museum's imaging studios.

All requests to reproduce works of art from MoMA's collection within North America (Canada, U.S., Mexico) should be addressed directly to Art Resource at 536 Broadway, New York, New York 10012. Telephone (212) 505-8700; fax (212) 505-2053; requests@artres.com; artres.com. Requests from all other geographical locations should be addressed directly to Scala Group S.p.A., 62, via Chiantigiana, 50012 Bagno a Ripoli/Firenze, Italy. Telephone 39 055 6233 200; fax 39 055 641124; firenze@scalarchives.com; scalarchives.com.

Requests for permission to reprint text from MoMA publications should be addressed to text_permissions@moma.org.

Related links:
Outside North America: Scala Archives
North America: Art Resource