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David Smith (sculptor)


David Smith (sculptor)

David Smith
Born Roland David Smith
(1906-03-09)March 9, 1906
Decatur, Indiana
Died May 23, 1965(1965-05-23) (aged 59)
South Shaftsbury, Vermont
Nationality American
Known for Sculpture
Movement Abstract expressionism, Modernist
CUBI VI (1963), Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Roland David Smith (March 9, 1906 – May 23, 1965) was an American Abstract Expressionist sculptor and painter, best known for creating large steel abstract geometric sculptures.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Work 2
    • Early work 2.1
    • After 1945 2.2
    • Major works 2.3
  • Exhibitions 3
    • Recent Solo Exhibitions (Selection) 3.1
  • Collections 4
  • Recognition 5
  • Notes 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Writings 9
  • External links 10

Early life and education

Roland David Smith was born on March 9, 1906 in

  • David Smith estate
  • David Smith at Gagosian Gallery
  • Cubi XXVII
  • Volton VVX at Indiana University Art Museum

External links

  • Gray, Cleve, ed. Sculpture and Writings. New York, London: Thames & Hudson, 1968, rpt. 1989. ISBN 978-0-500-27520-7


  • Wilkin, Karen. David Smith. New York: Abbeville Press, 1984.
  • Smith, Candida N. The Fields of David Smith. New York, London: Thames & Hudson, 1999.
  • David Smith: Medals for Dishonor. New York: Independent Curators Incorporated, 1996.
  • Gimenez, Carmen, ed. David Smith; A Centennial. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 2006.


See also

  1. ^ In Depth: David Smith Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
  2. ^ David Smith Museum of Modern Art, New York.
  3. ^ David Smith Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
  4. ^ David Smith Museum of Modern Art, New York.
  5. ^ David Smith Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
  6. ^ David Smith Museum of Modern Art, New York.
  7. ^ David Smith Museum of Modern Art, New York.
  8. ^ William Zimmer (September 19, 1999), The Sculptures Of David Smith New York Times.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Everyday Art Quarterly 23 (1952)
  11. ^
  12. ^ Roberta Smith (January 2, 2014), The Silent Totems of a Restless Quest The New York Times.
  13. ^ David Smith: The Forgings, October 29, 2013 - January 11, 2014 Gagosian Gallery, New York.
  14. ^ David Smith Museum of Modern Art, New York.
  15. ^ Christopher Knight (April 14, 2011), Art review: 'David Smith: Drawing Space' at Margo Leavin Gallery Los Angeles Times.
  16. ^ David Smith: A Centennial, February 3 - May 14, 2006 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
  17. ^ Cleve Gray, David Smith by David Smith (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968), 40
  18. ^ William Zimmer (September 19, 1999), The Sculptures Of David Smith New York Times.
  19. ^ David Smith: The Forgings, October 29, 2013 - January 11, 2014 Gagosian Gallery, New York.
  20. ^ (1963)Cubi XDavid Smith, Museum of Modern Art, New York.
  21. ^ David Smith: Medals for Dishonor, (New York: Independent Curators Incorporated, 1996), 48.
  22. ^ David Smith Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
  23. ^ Christopher Knight (April 5, 2011), Art review: 'David Smith: Cubes and Anarchy' at Los Angeles County Museum of Art Los Angeles Times.
  24. ^ websiteThe Estate of David SmithDavid Smith's Current, Future, and Recent Exhibitions on
  25. ^ Carol Vogel (January 5, 2012), Whitney and Storm King to Share a David Smith New York Times.


In 1964 he received a Creative Arts Award from Brandeis University and in February 1965 was appointed by Lyndon B. Johnson to the National Council on the Arts.


Works by David Smith are included in major collections worldwide, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Storm King Art Center has 13 Smith sculptures in its collection.[25]


Recent Solo Exhibitions (Selection)

Smith represented the United States in the 1951 [23]

Smith’s first solo show of drawings and welded-steel sculpture was held at Marion Willard’s Museum of Modern Art and were shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art's Annual exhibition in New York.


The rape of the mind by machines of death – the Hand of God points to atrocities. Atop the curly bull the red cross nurse blows the clarinet. The horse is dead in this bullfight arena – the bull is docile, can be ridden.[21]

As with many artists from the Modernist period, including Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, much of Smith’s early work was heavily influenced by Surrealism. Some of the best examples are seen in the Medals for Dishonor, a series of bronze reliefs that speak out against the atrocities of war. Images from these medals are strange, nightmarish, and often violent. His own descriptions give a vivid picture of the medals and strongly express condemnation of these acts, such as this statement about Propaganda for War (1939–40):

Prior to the Cubis, Smith gained widespread attention for his sculptures often described as “drawings in space.” Originally trained as a painter and draftsman, Smith’s sculptures, such as Hudson River Landscape (1950) and The Letter (1950), blurred the distinctions between sculpture and painting. These works make use of delicate tracery rather than solid form, with a two-dimensional appearance that contradicts the traditional idea of sculpture in the round.

Smith often worked in series.[20] He is perhaps best known for the Cubis, which were among the last pieces he completed before his death. The sculptures in this series are made of stainless steel with a hand-brushed finish reminiscent of the gestural strokes of Abstract Expressionist painting. The Cubi works consist of arrangements of geometric shapes, which highlight his interest in balance and the contrast between positive and negative space.

Major works

He died in a car crash near Bennington, Vermont on May 23, 1965.[19] He was 59 years old.

In 1962, the Italian government invited Smith to make sculptures for the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto.[18] Given open access to an abandoned steel mill and provided with a group of assistants, he produced an amazing 27 pieces in 30 days. Not yet finished with the themes he developed, he had tons of steel shipped from Italy to Bolton Landing and over the next 18 months he made another 25 sculptures known as the Voltri-Bolton series.

The February 1960 issue of Arts magazine was devoted to Smith’s work and later that year he had his first West Coast exhibition, a solo show at the Everett Ellin Gallery in Los Angeles. The following year he rejected a third place award at the Carnegie International, saying “the awards system in our day is archaic.”[17]

Smith’s family was also getting bigger, Smith remarried and had two daughters, Rebecca (born 1954) and Candida (born 1955). He named quite a few of his later works in honor of his children (e.g., Bec-Dida Day, 1963, Rebecca Circle, 1961, Hi Candida, 1965).

Beginning in the mid-1950s, Smith explored the technique of burnishing his stainless steel sculptures with a sander, a technique that would find its fullest expression in his Cubi series (1961–65). The scale of his works continued to increase – Tanktotem III of 1953 is 7’ tall; Zig I from 1961 is 8’; and 5 Ciarcs from 1963 is almost 13’ tall. Finally, in the late 1950s Smith began using spray paint — then still a new medium — to create stenciled shapes out of negative space, in works closely tied to his late-career turn toward geometric planes and solids.[16]

Smith continued to paint and especially to draw throughout his life. By 1953 he was producing between 300 and 400 drawings a year. His subjects encompassed the figure and landscape, as well as gestural, almost calligraphic marks made with egg yolk, Chinese ink and brushes and, in the late 1950s, the ‘sprays’.[14] He usually signed his drawings with the ancient Greek letters delta and sigma, meant to stand for his initials.[15]

[13] Smith was awarded the prestigious

Smith, who often said, "I belong with the painters," made sculptures of subjects that had never before been shown in three dimensions. He made sculptural landscapes (e. g. Hudson River Landscape), still life sculptures (e. g. Head as Still Life) and even a sculpture of a page of writing (The Letter). Perhaps his most revolutionary concept was that the only difference between painting and sculpture was the addition of a third dimension; he declared that the sculptor's "conception is as free as a that of the painter. His wealth of response is as great as his draftsmanship."[10]

Traditionally, metal sculpture meant bronze casts, which artisans produced using a mold made by the artist. Smith, however, made his sculptures from scratch, welding together pieces of steel and other metals with his torch, in much the same way that a painter applied paint to a canvas; his sculptures are almost always unique works.

After the war, with the additional skills that he had acquired, Smith released his pent-up energy and ideas in a burst of creation between 1945 and 1946. His output soared and he went about perfecting his own, very personal symbolism.

After 1945

During World War II, Smith worked as a welder for the American Locomotive Company, Schenectady, NY assembling locomotives and M7 tanks. He taught at Sarah Lawrence College.[9]

[8] The artist would put his sculptures in what is referred to as an upper and lower field, and sometimes he would put them in rows, "as if they were farm crops".[7] In 1940, the Smiths distanced themselves from the New York art scene and moved permanently to

Early Smith: Ancient Household of 1945, bronze, in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

In the Bolton Landing that he and Dehner had bought a few years earlier. Smith started by making three-dimensional objects from wood, wire, coral, soldered metal and other found materials but soon graduated to using an oxyacetylene torch to weld metal heads, which are probably the first welded metal sculptures ever made in the United States. A single work may consist of several materials, differentiated by varied patinas and polychromy.[6]

Smith’s early friendship with painters such as Adolph Gottlieb and Milton Avery was reinforced during the Depression of the 1930s, when he participated in the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project in New York.[4] Through the Russian émigré artist John Graham, Smith met avant-garde artists such as Stuart Davis, Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning. He also discovered the welded sculptures of Julio González and Picasso, which led to an increasing interest in combining painting and construction.

Early work


Moving to New York in 1926, he met Dorothy Dehner (to whom he was married from 1927 to 1952) and, on her advice,[2] joined her painting studies at the Art Students League of New York. Among his teachers were the American painter John Sloan and the Czech modernist painter Jan Matulka, who had studied with Hans Hofmann. Matulka introduced Smith to the work of Picasso, Mondrian, Kandinsky, and the Russian Constructivists. In 1929, Smith met John D. Graham, who later introduced him to the welded-steel sculpture of Pablo Picasso and Julio González.[3]


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