Centre Pompidou, Paris

F-75004 Paris

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David Smith (1906 – 1965) was one of the most innovative and influential sculptors of the 20th century. A pioneer in the use of welding and of industrial materials, he revolutionised sculpture in the United States. Marking the centenary of the artist's birth, this monographic exhibition at the Centre Pompidou / Musée National d'Art Moderne, the first ever in France, offers an unmissable opportunity to discover a great American artist whose work is rarely seen in Europe.

This exhibition presents 46 of the artist's most important sculptures and 12 of his drawings, drawn from public and private collections in Europe and the United States. It retraces his career from its beginnings in the earliest welded works of the 1930s – inspired by Pablo Picasso and by Julio González – focussing on a number of especially significant moments. The Surrealist-inspired works of the 1940s are succeeded by the landscapes of 1947-51, and these by the series that Smith began to make in the 1950s. The Agricola, Tanktotem and Voltri series testify to a continuous process of artistic development that culminates in the late, monumental works, some in painted, some in stainless steel. Among the latter are the Cubi, the last series the artist embarked on before his death. Chronologically organised, the exhibition gives an insight into the whole range and complexity of Smith's work. Its striking and radically innovative design brings out the sense of series so important to the artist, deploying the works in an open, uncluttered space that allows the public to move around every one of the sculptures, viewing to them from every angle.

David Smith, Sculptures 1933–1964 is organized by the Centre Pompidou in collaboration with The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and the Tate Modern, London. Presented first in New York at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum from 3 February to 14 May 2006, it will be shown in Paris from 14 June to 21 august, and then in London from 25 October 2006 to 14 January 2007.

BIOGRAPHY David Smith was born in Decatur, Indiana, in 1906. After a year at Ohio University, Athens, in 1924-25, he worked for a time in an automobile factory before moving to New York in 1926. In 1927, he enrolled at the Art Student's League, studying painting under John Sloan and Jan Matulka. In the early Thirties, Smith met the Russian émigré John Graham, who introduced him to avant-garde painters Stuart Davis, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Edgar Levy and Jean Xceron and brought them all into contact with latest artistic developments in France. Impressed in 1929 by the welded metal sculptures of Pablo Picasso and Julio González, Smith produced his first piece in welded metal in 1933. The particular dangers of the new technique led him in 1934 to rent space for a studio in the vast Terminal Iron Works in Brooklyn, where he worked until 1940, when he left the city for Bolton Landing, near Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains, in upstate New York. A first journey to Europe in 1935-36 brought a more intimate acquaintance with European artistic developments. Returning to New York, Smith made a decisive turn towards sculpture. He was given his first solo exhibition at the East River Gallery in January 1938, where he showed 17 sculptures in welded steel.

The years after the war – during which he worked as a welder on tanks and locomotives – were extremely productive. The works of the immediate post-war period are characterised by great formal invention and imbued with a very personal symbolism. In 1947, he began an exploration of landscape as a theme for sculpture that would come to an impressive culmination in 1951 with Australia and Hudson River Landscape. It was then that he began to work in series, each developed over several years and overlapping in time. The first, the Agricolas of 1951–1957, are constructed from old agricultural machinery; in 1952 Smith produced the first of the Tanktotems, distinctively vertical works made from elements of commercially available boilers, the last of them painted in polychrome.

In 1948 Smith began to teach, giving courses and lectures at art schools and universities. In the Fifties he acquired a new circle of friends, among them Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland, Jackson Pollock and the art critic Clement Greenberg, who would visit him at Boston Landing, where, in 1954, he began to place his work in the fields around his house and studio. From 1952 onward, Smith exhibited regularly in the United States, alone and with others. He was also increasingly in demand at international events, notably the Venice Biennale of 1958, where he was given a solo show. In 1961, he embarked on a new series, Zig, eight monumental works in painted steel, simple and geometrical in form. Invited by the Italian government to take part in the Spoleto Festival, in June 1962 Smith travelled to Voltri, near Genoa, where he set up a studio in an abandoned factory; there he produced in 30 days the 27 sculptures of the Voltri series, more elaborate pieces assembled from found tools and scrap steel.

A final major innovation came in 1961, when Smith began to experiment with polished stainless steel, which he used for the series of Cubi, monumental combinations of cubic, cylindrical and rectangular forms up to 3 metres high, made to be displayed outdoors. David Smith was still working on the Zig and Cubi series when he died in a car accident in May 1965.

PUBLICATION DAVID SMITH, SCULPTURES 1933–1964 Éditions du Centre Pompidou Edited by Isabelle Monod-Fontaine and Bénédicte Ajac Paperback, 23.5 x 30 cm, 360 pp., 220 b&w illustrations.


David Smith
SCULPTURES 1933 - 1964
Kuratoren: Isabelle Monot-Fontaine, Benedicte Ajac