Drawing and Sculpture: Acting in Space
April 25 - June 27, 2015
Opening: Saturday, April 25, 2015, 5 - 8 pm
Galerie Karsten Greve Paris is pleased to announce Drawing and Sculpture, its first exhibition devoted solely to the work of the American artist David Smith. Highlighting works produced between 1950 and 1960, this presentation pays tribute to Smith’s pioneering use of industrial methods and materials to radically reconceive sculpture as drawing in space. The works Smith produced during this critical ten-year period transformed and expanded the breakthroughs of European Modernism, and inspired the next generation of artists whose work came to define late twentieth century sculpture.
Smith’s predominant material of choice was steel. As he wrote, “The metal itself possesses little art history. What associations it possesses are those of this century: power, structure, movement, progress, suspension, destruction, brutality.” Among the most important of the major sculptors of the twentieth century, David Smith directly addressed these conflicting forces, always asserting that the ultimate subject of art was the artist’s identity. The resulting work is simultaneously raw and refined, lyrical and iconic. Smith’s fertile imagination assimilated influences from classical and tribal art, Constructivism, Cubism, and Surrealism to generate an outpouring of creative inspiration across a broad range of media including sculpture, painting, drawing, and photography.
The grandson of a blacksmith, David Smith was born in 1906 into a world in flux between agrarian and industrial life. The merging of nature and industry was natural to him; as a child he played in the fields and railroad yards near his home in Decatur, Indiana. When he was nineteen years old, he worked briefly in an automobile factory, where he learned to weld, a process he would later embrace to make much of his sculpture.
David Smith’s first welded iron sculptures date from 1933, only one year after Julio González coined the term “drawing in space” to describe the work of Pablo Picasso. Rejecting the traditional environs of the artist’s studio, atelier, and sculpture foundry, Smith identified his practice with the industrial world, setting up his studio on the Brooklyn waterfront in borrowed space in the Terminal Iron Works, a small commercial welding shop. Smith spent the next thirty-two years exploring and expanding the range of aesthetic innovations and ambitions made possible by this new sculptural medium.
Drawing, as well as welding, played a central role in the development of David Smith’s art. It influenced his vision for sculpture and provided a way for him to make art spontaneously, free from the physical constraints and labor imposed by sculpture. Smith wrote in 1955, “Drawing is the most direct, closest to the true self, the most natural celebration of man – and if I may guess, back to the action of very early man, it may have been the first celebration of man with his secret self – even before song… drawing is the fast moving search which keeps physical labor in balance.”
For his drawings, Smith used a broad variety of media including tempera, gouache, oil, industrial spray enamel, and, increasingly after 1951, one of his own invention: egg-ink made from a mixture of egg-yolk and India ink. The exhibition David Smith – Drawing and Sculpture: Acting in Space presents thirty of these drawings accompanied by an important untitled sculpture from 1951 that dramatically underscores Smiths innovative merging of the two media.
David Roland Smith was born on March 9, 1906, in Decatur, Indiana. After graduating from high school, Smith studied for a year at Ohio University then spent the summer of 1925 working in an automobile factory. In 1926, Smith moved to New York City, where he attended the Art Students League. There where he was introduced to the work of Picasso, Mondrian, Kandinsky, and the Russian Constructivists. The early experiments in welded sculpture by Julio González and Pablo Picasso inspired Smith to apply his technical skills to art. His constructions of 1933 are likely the first welded sculptures made in the United States. A part of a small circle of young avant-garde artists that included Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, and Jackson Pollock, Smith created work in the 1930’s that transcended the influences of European modernism and over the next twenty years established himself as the singular sculptor of the Abstract Expressionist generation. Smith received Guggenheim Fellowships in 1950 and 1951. He represented the United States in the 1951 International Biennale in Sao Paulo, and at the Venice Biennials of 1954 and 1958. His works were included in the 1953-54 exhibition organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Twelve Modern American Painters and Sculptors, which traveled to France, Germany, Switzerland, Finland and Norway, and in 1957 MoMA made him the subject of a major retrospective exhibition. Works by him were also included in dokumenta II: Skulptur, 1959, and in dokumenta III, 1964, presented in Kassel, Germany. The February, 1960, issue of Arts magazine was devoted to Smith’s work. In 1961, MoMA organized an exhibition of Smith’s sculptures that traveled throughout the United States for nearly two years. In 1962, the Italian government invited Smith to the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto. Given access to an abandoned steel mill, and provided with a group of assistants, he produced an amazing 27 pieces in 30 days. In 1964, Smith received a Creative Arts Award from Brandeis University, and in February, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to the National Council on the Arts. David Smith died in a car crash on May 23, 1965. He was 59 years old. Since his death, one-person retrospectives of David Smith’s work have been held in scores of museums around the world, most recently in 2006 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Centre Georges Pompidou, in Paris.