Published: March 29, 2011
In the first major thematic exhibition devoted to the Twentieth Century American sculptor David Smith (1906‱965), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents “David Smith: Cubes and Anarchy,” April 3⁊uly 24. Organized by LACMA, the exhibition will bring together more than 100 works, including the largest grouping of Smith’s monumental Cubis and Zigs brought together in more than 25 years. “Cubes and Anarchy” places these acknowledged masterpieces in context with his earlier works, revealing Smith as a sculptor whose identification with the working class motivated him to adopt the geometric forms of the constructivist avant-garde from the very first years of his career in the 1930s until his untimely death in 1965.
“Cubes and Anarchy” includes sculptures, drawings, paintings and photographs †many provided by the estate of David Smith, which lent not only significant sculptures but also revelatory sketchbooks and photos, only a few of which have been exhibited previously.
Carol S. Eliel, exhibition curator and LACMA curator of modern art, said, “‘David Smith: Cubes and Anarchy’ considers for the first time the entirety of the artist’s career while focusing on the theme of geometry in his work.”
Widely heralded as the greatest American sculptor of the Twentieth Century, Smith has often been presented as a counterpart to the Abstract Expressionist painters or as a draftsman in space. Most scholarship has viewed Smith’s early work as developing in a linear fashion, from the European influences of Picasso and Cubism in the 1930s, to a figuratively based, highly detailed, American Surrealism in the 1940s, to a lyrically abstract, expressionist expansiveness in the 1950s, culminating with the seemingly disconnected breakthrough embodied in the reduced, geometric monumentality of his final works.
“Cubes and Anarchy” offers a fresh interpretation of Smith’s work, revealing geometric abstraction as a constant focus throughout his career, a leitmotif that was deeply connected to the artist’s self-definition. From his earliest small-scale sculptures to his last monumental works, what Smith called “basic geometric form” was a powerful touchstone for the artist. LACMA’s exhibition title derives from Smith’s recollection that his concept of “cubes and anarchy” stemmed from the painter John Sloan, his teacher at New York’s Art Students League in the 1920s, who exposed him to Cubism, Constructivism, and progressive social movements.
While a college student, Smith worked as a welder and riveter at the Studebaker automobile factory in South Bend, Ind., and again in the early 1940s, making army tanks. A member of Local 2054 United Steelworkers of America, Smith deliberately retained his union membership for years. He affirmed the parallels between his working methods as an artist and those used by factory laborers. He said he had learned “to assemble the whole by adding its unit parts.”
Smith’s sculptures were exhibited not only across the United States but also internationally, including in the Venice Biennale, 1958, the São Paulo Bienal, 1959, and Documenta, 1964. His work in the early 1960s brought Smith to the forefront of international recognition. Smith died (during the planning of a major exhibition for LACMA) in an automobile accident in 1965, at the age of 59.
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