CALDER, Alexander (1898 - 1976)

Mobile sculpture made of black steel consisting of steel plates bolted together to the stable part and stainless steel and aluminum blades attached to articulated stainless steel bars for the mobile part.
Date of entry at UNESCO
Country of origin United States
Acquisition made by UNESCO for the artistic decoration of its Headquarters in 1958
© Photo: UNESCO/M. Claude
All rights reserved


Stable element(base): 570 x 350 x 435 cm

Mobile element, larger element: 160 x 640 cm

Mobile element, smaller element: 30 x 230 cm

Total weight: 2500 kg

In 1957, the UNESCO “Committee on Architecture and Works of Art”, in collaboration with the Committee of Art Advisors, chose eleven artists to undertake the task of decorating the permanent headquarters in Paris, inaugurated in 1958. In this context, the Committee approved on March 15, 1957 the mobile sculpture model proposed by Alexander Calder. The final version of the mobile was created in 1958 and erected by Calder in collaboration with Carmen Segre, a welder at Waterbury Ironworks in Connecticut. Once it was completely finished, the monumental sculpture was packaged and sent to Paris, where Calder and Segre took two days to install it at UNESCO Headquarters. The work was placed next to the Conferences building off Suffren Avenue and later moved to the Piazza.

“Spirale” measures close to ten meters in height (variable due to its mobile nature) and is made up of two tons of steel. It is representative of Calder’s mobile sculptures - abstract works for which movement is the main component in the composition. The mobile exhibited at UNESCO is said to be in “free movement” because it animated by the wind, contrary to “motorized mobiles”.

Calder systematically used minimal color in his works, in this case limiting his palette to black. He also privileged simple shapes such as discs or stars. For “Spirale” he used the triangular shape as his starting point for both the stable and mobile elements. “Spirale" has been put on loan for several exhibitions in France and abroad, such as “Calder’s monuments” at La Défense in Paris (France,1992), in Bonn (Germany, 1993),in Vez and more recently Tours(France, 1996 and 2008).

Artist Biography

Alexander Calder was an American sculptor born in Philadelphia (USA) in 1898. He joined the Art Student League of New York in 1923. At the age of 25, following the publication of his illustrations of Barnum and Bailey’s circus (for which he had a year-long entry pass) in a New York newspaper, he discovered a true passion for the circus. In 1927, in Paris, he created his famous miniature circus made of small, thin metal figures and animals ingeniously designed so that he could animate them individually, making them walk on a tightrope, dance, lift weights or even do acrobatics.

His art took a sudden turn in 1930 when, following a visit to Piet Mondrian’s studio, he abandoned figurative sculpture for abstraction. The different rectangles of color, spread across the walls of Mondrian's studio, made a particularly strong impression on Calder, who expressed the desire to “make them move”. In 1931 he joined the Abstraction-Creation Group dedicated to non-figurative art. He began at this point to construct sculptures made up of independent mobile elements that moved thanks to an electrical motor or a manual crank. In 1932 he exhibited thirty of these sculptures, qualified as “mobiles” by Marcel Duchamp; this marked the beginning of a long and successful artistic career. Following the Second World War, Calder spent his time between France and the USA. He passed away of a heart attack in 1976; the Calder Foundation was created in New York in 1987.