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A (little) big top is popping up at the AGO this autumn

Landmark early works by American artist Alexander Calder tell the story of an artist becoming a master

(Toronto: August 24, 2009) Most artists spend their formative years in the studio, honing their technique and finding their style, hoping that somebody somewhere will notice their work. Not Alexander Calder. The 20th century’s most celebrated and influential sculptor spent his formative years hitting the streets of Paris with a creation that has to be seen to be believed — a magical miniature circus. This fall, that circus is coming to Canada for the first time as the centrepiece of a special exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario titled Alexander Calder: The Paris Years 1926–1933.

Running from October 3, 2009 to January 10, 2010, the exhibition draws on over 80 works to tell the story of Calder’s artistic trajectory — from his early sketches of circus folk in New York and the small wire sculptures he created in Paris to early examples of his famous mobiles. The focal point of the exhibition is Calder’s Circus, a miniature three-dimensional circus that Calder created between 1926 and 1931 and then performed internationally for decades, garnering the attention of the Paris art scene and introducing him to artists whose friendship and influence would change his life and work forever, including Mondrian, Miró and Man Ray.

“It’s really an exhibition about a young artist developing his own vocabulary and responding to what was around him,” says Joan Simon, curator at large at the Whitney Museum of American Art, who organized the show with Brigitte Leal of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. “When Calder arrived in Paris in 1926, he aspired to be a painter; when he left in 1933, he had evolved into the artist we know today: an international figure and defining force in twentieth-century sculpture.”

“Calder’s wonderful sense of whimsy and exuberance makes this a terrific show for the whole family,” says AGO director and CEO Matthew Teitelbaum. “Calder’s Circus is such an enchanting work. It’s a thrill to be able to share it with a Canadian audience for the first time alongside the work that made Calder famous — those magical mobiles.”

Patrons will be able to view many of the incredible mechanical sculptures that Calder created and operated while performing his Circus: a lion that roars before taking its handler’s head in its mouth; trapeze artists that latch arms, fly through the air and then drop into a net; a dancer, naked but for some strategically placed fringe, seductively twisting and twirling. Giving context to these sculptures is Jean Painlevé’s 1955 film Le Grand Cirque Calder 1927, a visual recording of Calder performing his Circus as only he could.

Alexander Calder: The Paris Years 1926–1933 includes 56 sculptures, 6 paintings and 34 works on paper and was organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the Centre Pompidou, Paris. The exhibition and catalogue are made possible through a generous grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art. Additional support is provided by The Brown Foundation, Inc., Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen, Faith and Philip Geier, The Florence Gould Foundation, and The Jon and Mary Shirley Foundation. C.A. Delaney Capital Management Ltd. is the Lead Sponsor of the Toronto Presentation of Alexander Calder: The Paris Years, 1926-1933.


Alexander Calder (1898–1976), whose illustrious career spanned much of the 20th century, is perhaps the most acclaimed and influential sculptor of our time. Born into a family of celebrated classically trained artists, Calder utilized his innovative genius to develop a new method of sculpting: by bending and twisting wire, he essentially "drew" three-dimensional figures in space, forever changing the course of modern art. He is renowned for the invention of the mobile, whose suspended, abstract elements move and balance in changing harmony. Calder also devoted himself to creating outdoor sculpture on a grand scale using bolted sheet steel. Today, these stately titans grace public plazas in cities throughout the world — including Toronto’s York University, where Calder’s monumental sculpture Man [1:6 intermediate maquette] stands outside the University’s Centre for Fine Arts. Defying classification and boldly crossing the borderlines between multiple media, Calder remains a beloved and truly original force in international art.


With a permanent collection of more than 79,000 works of art, the Art Gallery of Ontario is among the most distinguished art museums in North America. After a stunning redesign by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, the transformed AGO opened its doors to the public in November 2008 amid international acclaim. Highlights include Galleria Italia, a gleaming showcase made of wood and glass running the length of two football fields along the Gallery’s façade; and the iconic central staircase, spiraling up through the roof of Walker Court and into the new Contemporary galleries above. From the extensive Group of Seven collection to the dramatic new African Art Gallery; from David Altmejd's monumental installation The Index to Peter Paul Rubens' masterpiece The Massacre of The Innocents, a highlight of the acclaimed Thomson Collection — there is truly something for everyone at the AGO.

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For AGO media information or visuals, please call:
Sean O’Neill, 416-979-6660, ext. 403,
Antonietta Mirabelli, 416-979-6660, ext. 454,

The Art Gallery of Ontario is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Culture. Additional operating support is received from the Volunteers of the AGO, the City of Toronto, the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Canada Council for the Arts.

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