Calder Smartphone Tour: Yellow Stalk With Stone

“Since the beginning of my work in abstract art, and even though it was not obvious at that time, I felt that there was no better model for me to work from than the Universe. Spheres of different sizes, densities, colors and volumes, floating in space, surrounded by vivid clouds and tides, currents of air, viscosities and fragrances—in their utmost variety and disparity.”

– Alexander Calder

Yellow Stalk with Stone is a prime example of Calder’s experimental approach to sculpture, embracing both the transcendent and the ordinary. During the artist’s lifetime, the artwork was exhibited globally with notable stops at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museu de Arte Moderna in Brazil, and the Museo de Bellas Artes in Venezuela.

Despite its global adventures, the standing mobile highlights the important role of found objects in Calder’s oeuvre. Its titular stone—found by the artist on a walking meditation around his property in Roxbury, Connecticut—invites a dialogue between found, manipulated, and artificial materials in art.

Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection closes Sunday, August 4 at SAM! Don’t miss your chance to see over 45 of the iconic American artist’s renowned works (including Yellow Stalk with Stone) and explore the exhibition’s free smartphone tour from the museum’s galleries. Plus, you can listen to all 16 stops of the tour on your own time via our SoundCloud.

Yellow Stalk with Stone, 1953

NARRATOR: Calder was a truly international artist. During his lifetime, this work was exhibited multiple times, including in Brazil, New York, and Venezuela. But the stone referred to in the title came from close to home; he picked it up near his studio in Roxbury, Connecticut. 

The stone creates a dialogue with the man-made elements of the sculpture. Sandy Rower:

ALEXANDER S. C. ROWER: Calder’s process of creation and composition was very intuitive. It was in the moment. It was in the spirit of the moment. It wasn’t something that was planned. He didn’t make diagrammatic plans for creating his sculptures.

NARRATOR: It’s a way of working that resonates with artist Kennedy Yanko.  

KENNEDY YANKO: He’s clearly thinking in a way where he needs to explore something, where he needs to understand something in his own way, to his own hand. Maybe he was in the studio, and he just had the stone and just went and placed it on there or he had been thinking about it for a while and then placed it on there, and that moment, that decision is what transforms the piece into what you wanted it to be.

NARRATOR: Found objects have an important role in Calder’s work. José Diaz.

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: I really hope that visitors will walk through this exhibition and see Calder through an ecological lens. He was certainly resourceful—you’ll notice that there’s works that incorporate wood, rocks, bits of material, or discarded objects—but also the fact that Calder could make art from the most ordinary materials and make something so complex, yet so beautiful.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Installation view of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection, Seattle Art Museum, 2023, © 2024 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Calder Smartphone Tour: Animated Coat Hanger

A material as humble and mundane as wire proved inspiring for Alexander Calder, who used it to create three-dimensional line drawings. During the late 1920s, he sculpted a range of wire acrobats, performers, animals, and portraits of famed figures of the day, including Fernand Léger, Josephine Baker, and Joan Miró.

These ‘drawings in space’ enthralled the international avant-garde for their projected shadows, captured voids, and challenged perceptions. His radical objects not only upended space through their transparent volumes, but also presented the reality of motion through vibrating wire lines and the inclusion of actual moving parts. As a result of these works, Calder was lauded as Le roi du fil de fer, or the king of wire.

Although intimate in size, Animated Coat Hanger speaks volumes about Calder’s ingenuity and resourcefulness with wire. The work’s title implies that a coat hanger was used to sculpt the profiled subject, but that is not the case. Perhaps the title is a nod to the artists from the Dada movement, who used the choice of selection to create readymades from preexisting common objects, such as hangers.

Tune in to the ninth stop on the free smartphone tour of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection to hear SAM Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art José Carlos Diaz and New York-based artist Kennedy Yanko share their perspectives on this simple yet surprising wire sculpture. Explore all 16 stops of the audio tour now via our SoundCloud or in our galleries by scanning the QR code next to select artworks on view.

Animated Coat Hanger, 1927

NARRATOR: Wire sculpture was Calder’s first great invention. He removed mass from sculpture and introduced transparency as well as gentle movement through vibration.

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: Animated Coat Hanger is really special to this exhibition.

NARRATOR: Curator José Diaz.

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: This particular work is from 1927 which is an example of one of the earliest works in the show. Calder had been so innovative with wire, so much so that we use the term drawing in space.

NARRATOR: Artist Kennedy Yanko:

KENNEDY YANKO: The fact that he would carry pliers in his pocket and just decide to start drawing is such a true thing to me, the idea of choosing a medium to represent drawing.  

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: But what’s really beautiful about it is the simplicity. You’ll notice the wooden base, which looks like it could have been a discarded material. You’ll notice the figurative aspect of it, sort of the profile of an individual.

KENNEDY YANKO: It’s surprising, and it’s intriguing, and somehow it’s barely there, but when you take a closer look at it, the sensibility, the delicacy, the gesture, the breasts, the face, how can a line have so much effect and so much life within it? So, I think that it’s just a gesture to like how powerful the way that the eyes can read something, and the way that the mind can fill the rest of the space. And I think with Calder’s work there’s always opportunity for that. He knows that the mind will always fill the blank spaces and always complete what needs to be there.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Installation view of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection, Seattle Art Museum, 2023, © 2024 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Chloe Collyer.

Calder Smartphone Tour: Little Yellow Panel

Although it was never publicly exhibited in his lifetime, Little Yellow Panel exemplifies Alexander Calder’s desire to create “paintings in motion.” This exotic wall sculpture’s origin can actually be traced to a significant moment in Calder’s development that inspired him to experiment with movement: his visit to the studio of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian in October 1930.

The artist recalled being impressed not by Mondrian’s paintings but by the environmental space of his studio: “Light came in from the left and from the right, and on the solid wall between the windows there were experimental stunts with colored rectangles of cardboard tacked on. Even the victrola, which had been some muddy color, was painted red. I suggested to Mondrian that perhaps it would be fun to make these rectangles oscillate. And he, with a very serious countenance, said: ‘No, it is not necessary, my painting is already very fast.’” 

In the wake of his visit, Calder began to work in the abstract. Beginning the following year, he explored the frontal formality of painting in three dimensions but with actual motion—elements in oscillation—usually by way of simple motors. Eventually, he experimented more freely with the possibilities of movement, suspending elements to be activated by air within wood frames or in front of panels made of painted plywood. Little Yellow Panel showcases how Calder ingeniously blurred the lines between painting and sculpture to reflect a choreography of nonobjective imagery.

Supplement your visit to Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection at SAM and learn more about Little Yellow Panel by tuning in to the exhibition’s free smartphone tour. Access it now on our SoundCloud or by scanning the QR code next to select works on view when exploring the museum’s galleries.

Little Yellow Panel, ca. 1936

NARRATOR: Little Yellow Panel is part of a series of works from the mid-1930s that explored the concept of ‘paintings in motion.’ The work blurs the lines between painting and sculpture: viewed from the front, its various elements appear to be positioned against a defined yellow background. But these elements can be moved around—so the composition changes. Artist Kennedy Yanko:

KENNEDY YANKO: What I like about it is that it’s perfect. It’s a perfect piece. Where the colors show up: they’re placed perfectly with just the right amount of randomness. It’s ironic. It’s calling upon all these different things. It captures, you know, an entrance into a more minimal thought of color and form. And it also holds his curiosity. And this really feels kind of like a pivotal moment of clarity.

NARRATOR: This was an intense period of innovation for Calder. In 1930, he visited the Dutch abstract artist Piet Mondrian. Calder was excited by the way the older artist had arranged his studio: Mondrian had pinned rectangles of colored cardboard to the walls, as he experimented with different compositions. For Calder, the whole space became an installation.

Following this visit, he made his first wholly abstract compositions. It was also at this time that he invented the kinetic sculptures we know as mobiles. It was his friend the French artist Marcel Duchamp who suggested the term. Sandy Rower:

ALEXANDER S. C. ROWER: He suggested it because in French the word mobile: it refers not only to motion, but it also means your motivation or your motive—Calder’s motivation, Calder’s motions, Calder’s motives. It was like that. It was a pun.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Installation view of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection, Seattle Art Museum, 2023, © 2024 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Calder Smartphone Tour: Group of Photos

By the 1950s, Alexander Calder had established himself as an internationally renowned artist. Although the public perceived him as a social butterfly, he preferred to work in his Roxbury, Connecticut studio alone and in silence. Few outsiders were granted access to the artist’s workspace. Among them, however, was acclaimed photojournalist and filmmaker Gordon Parks.

Parks visited Calder in his home and studio in 1952 on assignment for Life magazine. That year, Calder represented the United States at the 26th Venice Biennale, an international exposition that highlights global artistic achievements. This photograph, featuring a mobile now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is one of several images that were taken by Parks for the August 25, 1952, issue of the magazine. The accompanying story celebrated Calder’s winning of the biennale’s grand prize for sculpture.

Learn more about this work and two other photographs of Calder in his studio by tuning in to the seventh stop on the free smartphone tour of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection at SAM. The full tour is available to explore on your own time via our SoundCloud or in our galleries by scanning the QR code next to select works in the exhibition.

Group of Photos: Calder Installing Gamma (1947), Alexander Calder, Roxbury Ct. (1957), and Alexander Calder (1952)

NARRATOR: These three photographs offer an intimate glimpse of Calder at work. 

Let’s focus on the image to the far right of the group. It was taken by the important photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks in 1952. That year, Calder had been selected to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale. Curator José Diaz:

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: The Venice Biennale is sort of the Olympics of the art world where artists are chosen to represent their countries, and Calder actually won the Grand Prize that year.

This photo was taken for the August 25, 1952, issue of Life magazine and features Calder not installing an exhibition at the Venice Biennale but actually in his studio in Roxbury, Connecticut. This was a very private space, and for Life magazine—or really the American public—to see the artist behind the scenes would have been really captivating at the time.

NARRATOR: For artist Kennedy Yanko, the photographs offer a different perspective on the work.

KENNEDY YANKO: When you typically see Calder’s work, you’re looking up and you’re looking around. So your entire physical gesture and exploration of it changes. But you can see here how different it is when he’s so close to it and how he’s experienced it in the making. He’s living within the work, and he’s living within the sculpture, and I think that that’s what allowed all of these monumental sculptures to kind of continue to carry us. That sense of life and that sense of curiosity is how deeply immersed and present he was inside of the pieces.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Installation view of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection, Seattle Art Museum, 2023, © 2024 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Chloe Collyer.

Calder Smartphone Tour: Mountains (1:5 Intermediate Maquette)

In 1975, Alexander Calder was commissioned to create a monumental sculpture for the nine-story atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC. The result, Mountains and Clouds, is a towering two-part composition that stands 51 feet tall.

Mountains (1:5 Intermediate Maquette), the first artwork visitors encounter in Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection at SAM, is a scale model—referred to as a maquette—of the stabile portion of Calder’s colossal sculpture. The artist began creating intermediate maquettes in the mid-1960s as part of the process of scaling up his colossal sculptures “to study the overlapping of the plates and the piercing of the holes.”

In November of the following year—just under a month after the opening of his highly-applauded retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art—the artist traveled to Washington, DC  to finalize the details of the project with the architect. That evening, Calder returned to New York City, where he unexpectedly died of a heart attack. The artist’s death led to several delays in the commission’s completion with the final installation eventually taking place in 1986. Today, the stabile portion of Mountains and Clouds remains on view in the Hart Senate Building while the mobile undergoes restoration.

As a stationary work accompanied by a hanging mobile, Mountains and Clouds is the only composition of its kind that Calder created. Learn more about Mountains (1:5 Intermediate Maquette) and the sculpture it is paired with in SAM’s galleries, Femme Assise (1929), in the second stop on the free smartphone tour of Calder: In Motion. Browse all sixteen stops in the tour via our SoundCloud or by scanning the QR code next to select artworks in the exhibition.

Mountains (1:5 Intermediate Maquette), 1976

NARRATOR: In his later years, Calder focused primarily on large-scale public works. And of course, you can see one such work—The Eagle—here in Seattle in the museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park.

You’re looking at Mountains, a model for the “stabile” component of Calder’s massive 51-foot high work, Mountains and Clouds. A “stabile” is a stationary sculpture, in contrast to Calder’s moving sculptures, called “mobiles.” In the monumental work, the stabile is paired with a mobile, which hovers above it.

Calder made the full-sized sculpture for the Hart Senate Building in Washington, DC. It was one of his last projects before his death in 1976. The sculpture is made from sheet metal—one of Calder’s most favored materials.

KENNEDY YANKO: Metal is one of the most fascinating materials in the world. You know, it’s something that we are excavating from the ground. It’s coming from the earth…

NARRATOR: Kennedy Yanko is a painter and sculptor who works with metal.

KENNEDY YANKO: …and it carries what it’s known and what it’s experienced. It’s this amazing material that goes from a hard state to a liquid; and my relationship to this heavy, typically connoted as an industrial material is quite interesting because I watch it break like a twig. It actually becomes something that’s delicate to me.

NARRATOR: This late work is paired here with one of Calder’s earliest works, a wooden sculpture called Femme Assise, from 1929.

ALEXANDER S. C. ROWER: I think that’s really informative and quite interesting to have them together: you get a sense of a trajectory.

NARRATOR: Alexander S. C. Rower is President of the Calder Foundation, and the grandson of the artist.

ALEXANDER S. C. ROWER: And also, you get a sense of really the 20th century in terms of aesthetics, just in these two objects.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Installation view of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection, Seattle Art Museum, 2023, © 2024 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Chloe Collyer.

Calder Smartphone Tour: Introduction to the SAM Exhibition

Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection is now on view at SAM! As part of this SAM-exclusive exhibition, we’ve developed a free smartphone tour featuring additional insight on Calder’s life, legacy, and artistic career.

Composed of 15 stops, the tour includes interviews with collector Jon Shirley, SAM Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art José Carlos Diaz, sculptor Kennedy Yanko, and Calder Foundation President Alexander S. C. Rower, as they share their educational and personal thoughts on artworks including Fish (1942), Toile d’araignée (1965), Bougainvillier (1947), Red Curly Tail (1970), and many more of the artist’s most iconic works.

Tune in to the tour’s introductory stop now to get acquainted with the artists, scholars, curators, and admirers who contributed to this auditory experience. Then, explore all 15 stops in the audio tour of Calder: In Motion by scanning the QR code next to select artworks in the exhibition or on your own time via our SoundCloud

Introducing Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection

JON SHIRLEY: My name is Jon Shirley, and I am pleased to share with you Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection. The works of Alexander Calder that you will see in these galleries have been collected over the past 35 years first with my late wife Mary and now with my wife Kim. Over those years we have found that living with Calder’s work has been a beautiful and uplifting experience. 

Alexander Calder was a great artist whose father and grandfather were both sculptors. In Paris in the late 1920s Calder invented a new world of sculpture—first by using just wire and then by creating abstract works of sheet metal, wood, and wire that moved. As you will see, this collection spans Calder’s art career from the 1920s until his death in 1976. The audio guide will discuss many different works that I love so please take the time to listen and learn about Calder the man and his art.

My family and I sincerely hope that you will find this visit a dynamic experience and that you return to the Seattle Art Museum for many years as we present ongoing exhibitions related to Calder and the artists inspired by Calder.

NARRATOR: The exhibition attempts to capture something of how the works were displayed in the Shirleys’ home – setting up a unique dialogue across the decades. Joining us for this encounter will be exhibition curator José Diaz… 

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: My name is José Diaz.

NARRATOR: …painter and sculptor Kennedy Yanko…

KENNEDY YANKO: Hi! My name is Kennedy Yanko.

NARRATOR: …and Calder Foundation President—and grandson of the artist—Alexander S. C. Rower. 

ALEXANDER S. C. ROWER: Hi, I’m Alexander Rower. Everyone calls me Sandy.

NARRATOR: I hope you’ll enjoy your tour.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

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