Alexander Calder’s Flamingo Stands Tall in Chicago’s Loop

Photo by EugeneMoerman/

When you think of flamingos, your mind goes to tropical beaches, swampy lagoons, and a temperate climate. You don’t imagine Illinois. But the artistic attributes of the fabulous fowl have earned it a place in the heart of Chicago.

In October 1974, the public was introduced to Alexander Calder’s Flamingo, a 53-foot, 50-ton steel sculpture that boldly embodies the bird that inspired its name. For nearly 50 years, Flamingo has been neighbors with the Kluczynski Federal Building, its bright-red coloring an intentional contrast to the function-over-form architecture that surrounds. The sculpture has become one of the many iconic sites in The Loop, the central business district of Chicago.

The statue is plenty tall and thin enough that enjoyers can walk among its five anchored positions in the plaza’s ground, adding to its visceral experience. Flamingo is a departure from Calder’s typical mobile works, but the artist referred to it as a “stabile,” its abstract qualities strong enough to feel as though it’s moving along with the crowd and could take off for flight at a moment’s notice.

As for what it means, Calder gave a response only an artist could.

“That others grasp what I have in mind seems unessential, at least as long as they have something else in theirs,” he said.

The History of Alexander Calder’s Flamingo

When the U.S. General Service Administration needed something in front of the Kluczynski Federal Building, it turned to Alexander Calder. He had a reputation for the abstract, and the GSA wanted something that would liven up the beige and brutal architecture in the area. Calder debuted the first model at the Art Institute of Chicago in April 1973, and Flamingo was available to the world 18 months later.

The unveiling of Flamingo coincided with the presentation of Universe, another Calder piece displayed at the Willis Tower. The release of the two pieces together inspired a circus parade and the creation of “Alexander Calder Day,” which rolls around every Oct. 25.

Since, it has stood tall as an iconic piece of Chicago art history and served as a represention of the city in popular media. For example, Flamingo features prominently in this well-know scene from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

The style utilized in Flamingo calls back to a Russian art movement from the early-1900s known as constructivism. Those who operated under this philosophy “believed art should directly reflect the modern industrial world,” according to Tate Modern’s website. This is notable in Calder’s Flamingo, with its steel makeup and industrial feel while injecting some color into the banal construction of 1900s downtowns.