Alexander Calder A Universe 1934

  • MoMA, Floor 3, 3 South The Edward Steichen Galleries

"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.
Painted iron pipe, steel wire, motor, and wood with string
40 1/2 x 30" (102.9 x 76.2 cm)
Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (by exchange)
Object number
© 2021 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

How we identified these works

In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.

If you notice an error, please contact us at [email protected].


If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA’s Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].