The David Smith (Decatur, United States, 1906-Bennington, United States, 1965) Exhibition at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía has been conceived as a chronological review of the work of someone who is considered the most representative sculptor in North American Abstract Expressionism. The dichotomy between America and Europe that begins during the post-war years is highlighted in this collection which brings together forty works by Smith, made between 1933 and 1965. This collection seeks to explain "the nuclei of force that determined the sculptor's artistic evolution" in the words of Carmen Giménez, curator of the exhibition. The selection concludes with forty photographs by Ugo Mulas, taken at Voltri and Spoleto in the spring-summer of 1962 at his Bolton Landing studio in 1965. These images are a story on Smith's creation process and illustrate the modern idea of the artist at his studio, based on the principles of planning and collaboration with his assistants.
The combined works of Pablo Picasso and Julio González published in 1928 in Cahiers d'Art, reveal the possibility of iron and steel as artistic materials. From there and because of their constructive approach -he declares that "we spring from Cubism"- Smith decides on, from the mid-thirties, a sculpture that rejects a monolithic tradition and the academic notion of axial force, which is closed in itself. His bet is therefore on transparency, verticality and weightlessness. While dwelling on the idea of transparency, the artist disrupts the idea of form as contour, he does not differentiate between inside and outside and lends the sculpture optical value, declaring, according to art critic Rosalind Krauss, that it is on the surface where "the points of maximum visual activity are concentrated." On another note, Smith accepts the notion of drawing in a Picasso / González space, with constructive value, aimed at the inclusion of his work in the profile of nature, as evidenced by the photographs of the field of sculptures created in Bolton Landing.
Smith's work shows, until the fifties, influences by Joan Miró, Alexander Calder and Alberto Giacometti in the iconographic and in the processes and techniques he uses. An example can be seen in Interior (1937). In addition, Smith was influenced by the sculptures of assembled objects typical of Picasso, evident in Saw Head (1933). But it is Smith’s main reference, Julio González, who influences his autogenous welding for pieces such as Aggressive Character (1947). This explains why one of the axes of the exhibition is to note the way in which Smith outgrows González’s lessons.
On the other hand, Smith quickly finds references for his Amerindian primitive art sculpture in hand-made and religious crafts as well as in the models and industrial materials. With the Tanktotem and Sentinels series he begins his shift towards a sculpture based on the principles of monumentality, verticality and a balance between weight and volume. With Cubic and Zig as well as the Voltri, Smith insists on exploring the behaviour of sculpture in space. Because of these works and ideas he becomes the reference for the next generation of sculptors such as Anthony Caro, Donald Judd and Carl André and the minimalist practices.
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