Alexander Calder. A Universe. 1934

Alexander Calder

A Universe


Painted iron pipe, steel wire, motor, and wood with string
Overall: 40 1/2 x 30" (102.9 x 76.2 cm)
Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (by exchange)
Object number
© 2016 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Painting and Sculpture
This work is not on view.
Alexander Calder has 85 works online.
There are 1,519 sculptures online.

"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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