If you ever walk through the Federal Center Plaza, you will see Calder’s Flamingo. The 53-foot red structure of arches and voids stands tall for all to see. It’s a sight that’s hard to miss. And, it continues to brighten up the Plaza.
This structure is one of a kind. It looks almost out of place among the dull buildings nearby. But that was why the sculptor put it there in the first place. You may not recognize it as a Flamingo instantly. But the design is truly unique.
However, not many of us know how it came to be. If you wondered how Calder’s Flamingo came about, you’re in luck. Today, we’ll take you through a brief but informative history of this iconic structure.
To understand the sculpture’s background, we must learn a little about the man who created it.
They named the structure after Alexander Calder. He was the artist who came up with the idea. Calder became famous for his sculptures back then. Calder also dabbled in tapestries and jewelry design. He was an art
ist who became skilled in many fields.
Calder was a pioneer of modern styles and creativity. He came with a background in art and engineering. By the early 1960s, he started creating ‘mobile’ and ‘stabile’ structures. These were kinetic or stationary structures. Most of these designs used the principle of equilibrium.
These structures bagged him a lot of public commissions. As a result, many of his works still stand permanently today. And, the Flamingo in Chicago is a testament to this unique form of artistry.
Commissioning of Calder’s Flamingo
During the 60s and 70s, both government and private agencies began to beautify public spaces. Improving landscape usually meant hiring exceptional artists to create public art.
So, Calder’s Flamingo was a result of both government initiatives and the artist’s efforts. Together, they created many iconic art pieces in Chicago.
The government realized the need for beautifying spaces in modern cities. So, it created funding methods such as the ‘Percent-for-art.’ It was a means of seeking art funding from architecture.
The Percent-for-art took a portion of development projects for public art initiatives. Till the early 1940s, the United States Department of Treasury had a specific rule for public funding. The law was that one percent of federal buildings must go towards beautifying the nearby spaces.
Consequently, the GSA came about. GSA stands for General Services Administration. It was an independent agency that ran under the US government. Since 1963, the GSA ensures that a percentage of the construction project goes to public art and beautification.
The Flamingo in Chicago was the first artwork by the GSA. It began right after the ‘Percent-for-art’ program. So, it occupies a special place in the history of public funding.
Why Alexander Calder?
There were many other artists during this period. But the committees chose Calder because of several reasons.
For one, Calder had the reputation of being an exceptional artist and engineer. The ‘stabiles’ he created were modern enough by any standard. But not so extreme that they lost style in a few decades. This balance was part of the reason why they favored him.
Calder was excellent in creating dynamic surfaces, arches, and voids. Most buildings at the time had conservative shapes and designs. So, this new art provided the perfect contrast. It stood out among the dull and tedious buildings.
Also, Calder’s unusual but impressive structures proved to be ideal for outdoor spaces. He made his sculptures bigger. So, they stood out from the imposing buildings in the public square.
There was a growing trend of public authorities working with local artists. And Calder was ideal for modern, public art designs.
Unveiling of Calder’s Flamingo
Calder’s Flamingo was one of the first public arts ordered by the GSA. The unveiling came with a lot of anticipation and excitement.
On April 23, 1973, Calder unveiled the smaller model at the Art Institutes of Chicago. Then, on October 25, 1974, the 53-foot sculpture got unveiled. Coincidentally, it was also the same day when they unveiled Calder’s Universe at the Willis Tower. Today, we know it as the Sears Tower.
Today, Calder’s Flamingo still stands as an iconic structure of the city of Chicago.