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December 1, 2021

Alexander Calder’s Iconic Flying Colors Series for Braniff Airlines in the 1970s

In the early 1973, Braniff Airlines commissioned Alexander Calder to paint one of their aircrafts to celebrate twenty-five years of travel to South America. Excited by the prospect of his artwork literally flying around the world, Calder accepted and submitted designs to cover a Douglas DC-8-62. The finished craft, named The Flying Colors of South America featured a bold design in primary colors, executed by a paint crew with Calder attending to the details and additional flourishes—including his trademark “Beasties” which were painted on the engines.

The present work depicts one of these stylized creatures printed to commemorate the project. The aircraft was unveiled at the 1975 Pairs Air Show and made such an impression that Braniff commissioned two more planes, both Boeing 727s. Calder completed The Flying Colors of the United States featuring an abstract American Flag in time for the 1976 Bicentennial. Alas, the artist did not live to complete the third aircraft, The Spirit of Mexico.

Alexander Calder (July 22, 1898 – November 11, 1976) was an American sculptor known both for his innovative mobiles (kinetic sculptures powered by motors or air currents) that embrace chance in their aesthetic, and static “stabiles” monumental public sculptures. He didn’t limit his art to sculptures; he also created paintings, jewelry, theatre sets and costumes.

Calder preferred not to analyze his work, saying, “Theories may be all very well for the artist himself, but they shouldn’t be broadcast to other people.”

Born into a family of artists, Calder’s work first gained attention in Paris in the 1920s and was soon championed by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, resulting in a retrospective exhibition in 1943. Major retrospectives were also held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1964) and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1974).

Although primarily known for his sculpture, Calder also created paintings and prints, miniatures (such as his famous Cirque Calder), theater set design, jewelry design, tapestries and rugs, and political posters. He was honored by the US Postal Service with a set of five 32-cent stamps in 1998, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, posthumously in 1977, after refusing to receive it from Gerald Ford one year earlier in protest of the Vietnam War.




















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