Interview with Flamingo, Chicago’s Beloved Big Red Sculpture

Alexander Calder’s 'Flamingo' standing on Federal Plaza in Chicago
Alexander Calder’s ‘Flamingo’ standing on Federal Plaza in Chicago

'Flamingo' profile quick facts

Hi, Flamingo. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today.

Happy to be here.

Tell me a little bit about “here.” How is it you came to be in Chicago?

Well, I’ve lived in Chicago at the Federal Plaza since I was born in 1973. My parent, American artist Alexander Calder, created me under commission for the U.S. General Services Administration. Alexander was pretty well-known in the ’60s and ’70s, even internationally. The city wanted to fill the Federal Plaza space with one of his sculptures. So, he made me!

How do you fit Calder’s style?

He was famous for pioneering what is called a “stabile”—an abstract sculpture that is stationary as opposed to a mobile, which has parts that are not (he pioneered the mobile sculpture too, before the stabile). Anyway, that’s what I am, a stabile. The city wanted something in his style. Something to interact with the space and people walking through it. So, he made me. I’ve got archways between all my feet, so people are free to walk around and view me from all different angles.

What’s a typical day like for you at your residence on Federal Plaza?

I really like being here because I get to see people and people get to see me. They always seem to be around, no matter what time it is. Sometimes they’re in a hurry and just pass right by. Some of them glance. Some people will stop and stay for a while, looking me over or just hanging out on the plaza. I see kids, young people, adults, elderly folk. Business people, art people, local people, visitors from far away. No matter who goes by though, they sure can’t miss me—I’m big and red!

You have quite a weighty presence in the plaza. Your record shows you are 53 feet tall and weigh 50 tons. How do you feel occupying all that space?

I definitely dominate the space. Not like I’m being dominating in a mean way, but more like I’m taking up the space as a sort of symbol or reminder…

Flamingo’s birthmark from creation in 1973, Alexander Calder’s signature
Flamingo’s birthmark from creation in 1973, Alexander Calder’s signature

Could you elaborate?

Yeah, I guess what I mean is that I feel like I’m acting as a sort of reminder to the passing people to be bold and confident, but to have some class too. I’ve got nice curves, you know. Plus, I’m all muscle. So that, coupled with the curves and everything, I’ve really got a great figure to look at.

I can see that! Bold and confident…so would you say you have a definite and intentional meaning?

No, I don’t think so. Being bold and strong is just one way to interpret me. Different people might see different things or feel different ways. And that’s totally fine. I’m really very open, you know. Alexander wanted to make art that people could engage with and react to. Something with a non-representational form that plays off of the space it’s in.

How did you acquire the name Flamingo?

I suppose I reminded him of a flamingo.

I definitely see it. So, you have an anniversary coming up—42 years ago, you were unveiled to the public on October 25, 1974. Are you doing anything to celebrate?

Nothing crazy. The trees may throw around a little bit of leaf confetti, and perhaps I’ll get a nice shower from the clouds, but that’s about it. I know I’ll enjoy the visitors and passersby, whoever they may be. I just like being a part of Chicago.


You can visit Flamingo any time at the Federal Plaza, located at 50 W. Adams St. in Chicago.


Stephanie Lenchard Warren
Stephanie Lenchard Warren

Stephanie Lenchard Warren is a visual artist and nonfiction writer. Her work explores finding ourselves in nature as well as the nature in ourselves.

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