THE WHO OF THE WHAT???
"If you ask why I make sculpture, I must answer that it is my way of life, my balance, and my justification for being." —David Smith
So... I was just meandering through the museum sites – you know, the usual suspects and all – and I ran into the current exhibition at the Guggenheim in NYC: “David Smith: A Centennial.”
The exhibition description includes this remarkable claim: “Widely considered the greatest sculptor of his generation, David Smith (1906–1965) created some of the most iconic works of the 20th century.”
While Smith deserves his due, how many of you out there could describe a single David Smith sculpture. Not that wide audience is necessarily an indicator of value, but that claim is a bit large.
Perhaps I am a bit too biased. For me Smith is the sculptor who was associated with Abstract Expressionism, got caught up in the group and the endless bounty provided by ol’ Clement Greenberg. Personally I would be happy to never see another Cubi in my life.
Yes… I take it all a bit personally. Sculpture is where I started as an artist and I feel that too often sculpture has received a critical Free Pass from the art world. Sculpture so often has been given permission to lag behind other media as far as critical dialogue. Come on. Smith’s Cubis are what? Homages to Cubism with a little extra Mondrian? And these are made in the ‘60s. Even the early work never really surpassed 3-D variants of Miró drawings and paintings for me. [See above image]
Yes. David Smith has made some important work. He – if I am remembering correctly – was a founding member of the American Abstract Artists in NYC in the mid-30s. He is significant, but let's keep our claims in this ballpark. Does “widely” signify “by the writers of this catalog?" David Smith perpetuated the formal burden that lay upon sculpture for so many years. Thank goodness Joseph Cornell was out there, that Oldenburg – at least those early years – came along, hell, let us not forget good old Marcel [Duchamp that is] and the Large Glass.
David Smith is always there if you need a bit of a fix from your Sculptor’s Handbook: If you can’t make it good, make it big; if that doesn’t work make it red; if that still doesn’t work, let it rust; and if all else fail burnish it.
But for my two cents he is simply another of the legion that owe their souls to Clement G. and Harold R. [That would be Greenberg and Rosenberg: the dynamic duo of NYC art criticism back in the 40’s and 50’s]