Dearborn Street between Adams Street and Jackson Boulevard
During the 1920s, while living in Paris, American artist Alexander Calder would delight members of the avant-garde who visited his studio with his “circus” performances, featuring tiny kinetic figures and animals crafted from wires and other ordinary household materials and activated by hand, gears, hoses, strings and see-saw contraptions. Calder’s affinity for the circus may explain the pomp that surrounded the unveiling of Flamingo on October 25, 1974: he arrived at the Federal Plaza atop a white and gold circus wagon drawn by 40 horses.
Early in his career, Calder became famous for his “mobiles,” a term coined by artist Marcel Duchamp in 1931 to describe a type of kinetic sculpture with balanced or suspended components that move in response to air currents or motors. By contrast, his non-moving and, particularly, his large scale public works are known as “stabiles.” From 1953 to his death in 1976, Calder dedicated much of his time to large-scale projects, creating a new type of public sculpture that challenged the notion of sculpture as compositions of masses and volumes in favor of works with open spaces. In the case of Flamingo, although 53-feet tall, it maintains a human scale because it can be walked through, as well as around.
Commissioned in 1973 by the General Services Administration’s Art-in-Architecture program, Flamingo provides a fanciful counterbalance to the three surrounding structures designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The glass and steel grids of Mies’ buildings provide frame and dark backdrop for the elegant curves and bright vermilion color, used so frequently by Calder that it is known as “Calder Red.” At its unveiling, Mayor Richard J. Daley declared, “The Loop is now one of the world’s largest outdoor museums for contemporary art,” as Calder’s work joined the famous Picasso sculpture of 1967 and 1974 mosaic work FourSeasons by Marc Chagall along Dearborn Street.