Artwork Detail

Five Rudders
American, 1898–1976
Painted sheet metal and rods
126 x 98 1/4 x 112 "
Gift of Mrs. Mark C. Steinberg, 1964
WU 4220
© Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Standing at ten and a half feet high, Five Rudders is composed of a large tripod base painted bright red that balances a sequence of black sheet-metal elements at its apex. A signature work by the American sculptor Alexander Calder, Five Rudders is a hybrid form known as a standing mobile, or a stabile-mobile. It incorporates both a stabile—an abstract construction that is completely stationary—and a mobile—a sculptural work in which motion is a defining property. Calder’s sculpture functions like a weather vane: the vertically oriented black “rudders” can be placed in motion by a strong gust of wind. Both the name of the sculpture and the industrial materials used in its fabrication suggest a link to the devices that steer ships and aircrafts, yet the sculpture also conjures a range of images related to nature, such as flower petals and butterfly wings, which stand in direct opposition to the weighty character of Calder’s chosen materials. Created in 1964, Five Rudders in many ways epitomizes the artist’s sculptural production toward the end of his career. Calder began making wire-sculptures in the 1920s and his first mobiles in the early 1930s. By the 1950s, he had begun to dramatically increase the scale of his works, collaborating with foundries in France and the United States to produce sculptures that were regularly commissioned as monumental public works. During the postwar building boom of the 1950s and 1960s, public art was in high demand, and Calder’s stabiles and stabile-mobiles enjoyed a certain universal appeal. Abstract yet resonating with natural forms, they are resolutely modern but also lighthearted. A gift of local philanthropist Etta Eiseman Steinberg, Five Rudders has, since its original installation outside of Steinberg Hall, become an identifiable symbol of the Museum. In its present location on the Kemper Art Museum’s Florence Steinberg Weil Sculpture Garden, its striking colors and dynamic forms boldly complement the rational elegance of the surrounding architecture. [Cell phone tour, 2020]