FEATURE Image: Flamingo by Alexander Calder is a masterwork stabile in Chicago’s downtown. It was unveiled on October 25, 1974 in a dedication ceremony with the artist. It is one of Chicago’s iconic outdoor public artworks. 6/2022 7.73 mb
In downtown Chicago’s Federal Center Plaza on South Dearborn Street between Adams Street and Jackson Boulevard is Alexander Calder’s 53-foot-tall painted steel plate “stabile object” entitled Flamingo. The Chicago Federal Center was completed in 1974 with Calder’s artwork. The design project began in 1958 and included three International-style government buildings by modernist architect Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) within a public plaza design that was completed in 1974. Flamingo, commissioned after Mies’ death for $250,000 by the Government Services Administration, was unveiled on October 25, 1974 with the 76-year-old Calder present for its dedication ceremonies and festivities. With the commission Calder understood the significant impact of his artwork for the Federal Center Plaza in Chicago.
Calder’s prolific and impressive art career started in the early 1920s. Fifty years later, Flamingo (a.k.a., “the Calder”) in Chicago’s historic Federal Center Plaza is a later work, whose maquette Calder made before it was intended for Chicago.
During his artistic career’s many decades and years, Calder never stopped developing in his art. The 1974 steel sculpture painted red-orange is four stories tall and makes a powerful impact on the streetscape where it is an integral part. Along with Chicago’s Picasso in 1967 and Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (“the Bean”) in 2004, Calder’s Flamingo in 1974 has taken its well-deserved place among Chicago’s most iconic outdoor public artworks.
From the inventor of the mobile, Calder turned later to the development of the stabile of which Flamingo is a masterwork. Starting in the mid1950s and into the 1970’s, Calder produced scores of stabiles in many shapes and sizes for display around the world.
“Most architects and city planners want to put my objects in front of trees or greenery. They make a huge error. My mobiles and stabiles ought to be placed in free spaces, like public squares, or in front of modern buildings, and that is true of all contemporary sculpture.” – Alexander Calder.
Titled Flamingo, the towering abstracted “Calder red” painted stabile object can evoke reactions to it that are unexpected. Calder’s stabile masterwork was unveiled in October 1974 which was the same year the Sears Tower (in the background) was completed and which was at that time the world’s tallest building (today it is ranked no. 26). From Federal Center Plaza, Chicago’s 20th century architectural history is readily on display in its downtown buildings in a range of shapes, sizes, textures and design styles. 6/2022 7.24 mb
Flamingo can be intimidating because of its monumental size. Actual flamingo shorebirds vary in size, but are usually no more than 3 to 5 feet tall, and weighing about 5 to 7 pounds. At 53 feet tall, Calder’s immense stabile in Chicago is about the size of a giant sauropod dinosaur which could weigh around 60 tons. 5/2014 3.28 mb
Alexander Calder trained and worked as a mechanical engineer before he became an artist. The graceful design and construction of Flamingo is expressed by nearly one-inch-thick steel plates buttressed by ribs and gussets joined overhead by lofty arches and resting on three legs as if it is nearly weightless. Even his largest stabiles (of which Flamingo is one) are made so they can be easily unbolted, and taken apart to be transported and assembled at the place of destination. 11/2015 260kb 25%
In Federal Center Plaza is a complex of three buildings of varying scales by Mies van der Rohe: the broad 30-floor Everett McKinley Dirksen Building at 219 S. Dearborn Street completed in 1964 (at right), the lean 45-floor John C. Kluczynski Building at 230 S. Dearborn Street completed in 1974 (not pictured), and the single-story U.S. Post Office building at 219 S. Clark Street (not pictured). Calder’s Flamingo sits on its three pillars like a lunar lander that reflects the arcaded bases of Mies van der Rohe’s buildings that surround it as well as provide a sweeping contrast of curves and bright stand-out color against the surrounding modernist buildings’ monochrome glass-and-steel grid appearance. Calder’s artwork achieved more than the sum of these parts – it transformed Mies’ overall somber architectural trio into a more dramatic and complex quartet that included Calder’s art. The 30-story Dirksen Building is across Dearborn Street. 5/2014 4.82 mb
Calder’s Flamingo after dark with the one-story Post Office illumined within behind it. 11/2015 484 kb 25%
Calder’s stabile is one of the most monumental public art commissions in Chicago. Flamingo’s height and breadth (it fills a space of about 1440 square feet) achieves a largesse that does not forgo a human scale as it allows pedestrians to freely walk around, under and through it. The 45-story Kluczynski Building is at left. 6/2022 6.87 mb
Flamingo lighted at night in late November where there is already a snow pile on the sidewalk in Chicago’s Federal Center Plaza presaging the Chicago winter. In summer months there is a regular farmer’s market on the Federal Center Plaza. It is also the location for a variety of political gatherings year-round. The Kluczynski Building is behind. 11/2015 3.77 mb
In October 1974 Alexander Calder was in Chicago for a “Calder Festival” where two of his major works were being dedicated – Flamingo for Federal Center Plaza (depicted above with the Kluczynski Building) and Universe, a motorized mural for the Sears Tower. Reflecting the artist’s lifetime interest in circuses, Calder joined in the city’s circus-themed parade in his honor. In another major cultural event in Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art held a large retrospective exhibition of Calder’s art from October to December of 1974. 6/2022 6.20 mb
https://www.tclf.org/landscapes/federal-plaza – retrieved September 30, 2022.
A Guide to Chicago Public Sculpture, Ira J. Bach and Mary Lackritz Gray, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1983, pp. 54-55.
Calder’s Universe, Jean Lipman, The Viking Press and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1976, pp. 305; 339.
Calder The Conquest of Space, The Later Years: 1940-1976, Jed Perl, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2020, pp. 551; 553.
https://www.architecture.org/learn/resources/buildings-of-chicago/building/federal-center/ – retrieved September 30, 2022.
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