Calder’s Circus

Alexander Calder, the famous American sculptor, created a tiny circus, complete with lions, sword swallowers and acrobats from 1926-31. The tiny performers were sculpted out of fabric, wire and other materials. They danced, and spun, and jumped from trapeze to trapeze as Calder moved them around the stage. Calder performed The Circus for decades and it traveled back and forth from Paris to the United States. The circus and performers are now housed in the Whitney Museum, having been carefully restored and preserved.

I imagine that over the years, the performances evolved quite a bit. At the time of the restoration, there were signs of wear and tear. Patches, upon patches. So I like to think that even if the original performers stayed basically the same, the performance grew and shifted, as things do.

Fortunately, a few videos of Calder performing his circus exist, of the later years.

I love watching him perform. In some versions you can see his wife in the background, putting up with her husband's obsession. I feel her pain. But really, Calder is amazing.

Sooo.... a recent assignment, for my grad students, was to create a performer for Calder's Circus. Any type of creature was up for grabs. They were giving a short list of materials (fabric, string, wire, feathers, paper, etc) and a tight deadline (I love a tight deadline). Here is what they came up with.

My students came up with some pretty awesome solutions, but I think this could be a great project for kids too. Limit the materials, give a few easy ideas for how to apply movement, and let them go wild...