Alexander Calder's 'Flamingo'

April 6, 2010


(photo by Lee Bey)

Artist Alexander Calder liked circuses. I didn't know that. But as I contemplated‚  Flamingo, his still-impressive stabile at Federal Plaza the other day, it rather made sense. Only a sculptor with a sense of whimsy, razzle-dazzle, "how did they do that?" showmanship would create a 30 ton, five-story work made of industrial steel--and yet have all that mass touch the ground with the daintiness of a ballet dancer.

Built in 1973 for $350,000,‚  the vermilion-colored Flamingo provides a bright, playful counterpoint to the black-clad Mies van der Rohe-designed federal buildings. Calder, then in his early 70s, supervised the planning and the construction of the sculpture from his Roxbury, CT studio. Calder traveled to Chicago for the Flamingo's dedication in 1974. The details of the occasion sound quaint today. Calder--the circus fan--led a procession of elephants, calliopes and a team of 40 horses up State Street in celebration of the work. Mayor Richard J. Daley gave Calder the key to the city--gosh, do mayors do that anymore?--and cut the ribbon on the project. The group then hied over to the newly-completed Sears Tower to dedicate Universe, the Calder-designed mobile there.


Flamingo and the Girl, 1997 (photo by Lee Bey)


(photo by Lee Bey)

Here's a link to the Calder Foundation, which discusses the artist's life and work, including his Cirque Calder, a lively miniature circus he made in Paris in the 1920s from wire and materials he found.‚  Want to see it? Here's Calder and his circus in the 1950s: