Published: October 4, 2011
“David Smith: Cubes and Anarchy,” on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art through January 8, examines the abiding importance of geometric form in the work of American sculptor David Smith (1906‱965) from his earliest small works through the monumental late masterpieces that he created in the final years of his life.
Organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where it debuted earlier this year, the exhibition brings together approximately 60 works, including the largest grouping of Smith’s “Cubis” and “Zigs” assembled in more than two decades. The exhibition places these acknowledged masterpieces in context with Smith’s earlier works, including sculptures, drawings, paintings and photographs, many provided by the artist’s estate.
Smith has been widely heralded as one of the greatest sculptors of the Twentieth Century. His work has often been presented as a sculptural counterpart to that of the Abstract Expressionist painters who were his friends. As an innovator of welded sculpture, he produced a richly diverse body of work exemplified by his poetic assemblages of found objects and industrial materials.
The exhibition’s subtitle “Cubes and Anarchy” comes from a phrase Smith attributed to John Sloan, his teacher at the Art Students League in New York in the 1930s. For Smith, the phrase connoted the revolutionary power of geometric forms that had been heralded by the European abstract artists he most admired, in particular the Russian Constructivists, Kandinsky and the Dutch De Stijl painter Piet Mondrian.
Smith’s fusion of simple geometries with the techniques and materials of industrial fabrication freed him to explore a broad range of formal and expressive directions, including heightening the breakdown between drawing, painting and sculpture. With wildly gestural surfaces of burnished stainless steel and powerfully vibrant painted steel, he united timeless form with the power and scale of modern life. In creating this synthesis, Smith redefined the aesthetics and ambitions of sculpture.
The Whitney Museum of American Art is at 945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street. For information, 212-570-3633 or www.whitney.org .
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