Wit, Caricature, and Linear Flights of Fancy

Alexander Calder, Goldfish Bowl, 1929

In the mid-1920s, the Surrealists developed "automatic drawing" as a means of liberating the subconscious from rational control.

While at the Art Students League of New York in 1925, Calder mastered a similar technique of spontaneous, expressive line drawing: he would make figurative drawings without lifting his pen from the sheet. Soon after his arrival in Paris in 1926, he adapted this idea to wire sculpture, "drawing" in space an entire menagerie of figures both natural and fantastic. The spirit of genteel humor that will characterize Calder's work throughout his career is most evident in these earliest improvisations and is a characteristic shared with much Surrealist art.

This gallery includes his first mechanized sculpture, Goldfish Bowl (1929), which operates using a small crank. Equally playful is Tightrope (1938), a sculpture that recalls Calder's ongoing fascination with the circus, and Two Acrobats (1929), whose figures change in form with the movement of the spectator. Like the Surrealists, Calder also parodied legendary historical figures, as seen in the early mobile Hercules and Lion (1929).