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Lot 15: David Smith (1906-1965)

Contemporary Art, Part I

by Sotheby's

May 4, 1994

New York, NY, USA

David Rolland Smith (1906-1965) Please Register/Login to access your Invaluable Alerts

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Description: CUBI V signed, titled and dated June 16, 1963 polished stainless steel 96 by 73 by 22 in.243.8 by 185.4 by 55.9 cm. Cubi V is one of the twenty-eight Cubi sculptures made by Smith beginning in 1961 and continuing until his death in 1965. This series represents the high point of the artist's career and is acknowledged as a masterpiece of American art. "The sustained quality and intensity, and even more the steady growth in breadth and depth of vision to the end of his life, are reminiscent of what have become the ideal careers of the great Renaissance-Baroque masters... Smith's production seems to gain in depth and force until it culminates in the works from about 1960, which certainly constitute the most radical statement made by modern sculpture up to that time." (Sheldon Nodelman, "David Smith" in Art News, LXVIII, February 1969, pp. 29-30). The historical importance of the Cubi sculptures is evident in the fact that twenty-one works from the series are in the collections of major museums of modern art, and two are either promised gifts to museums or on extended loan. Sixteen of the twenty-one were acquired by these institutions between 1964-1969, either from the artist or from the estate of the artist. (See the listing below for the present location of each Cubi sculpture and the dates of acquisiton by public institutions). Throughout his career, Smith was able to channel the most radical of the avant-garde art discoveries into sculptural form, combining artistic daring with an immense skill in working with his materials. "From Cubism and Constructivism, he drew his formal syntax; from Surrealism, a vein of fantasy that permitted a wide range of symbolic and imagistic invention; from Expressionism, a gestural freedom that allowed an unflagging energy to penetrate and animate these elements of fantasy and construction." (Hilton Kramer, "David Smith's New Work", in Arts Magazine, March 1964, p. 28). This broad range of influences reached a moment of synthesis in the Cubi series. The cubist influence of "a balancing and juxtaposing of forms set one against another", was matched by a skill in construction which permitted the sculpture to "transcend the rhythmical dictates of material sculpture" (Jane Harrison Cone, "David Smith", in Art Forum, V, Summer 1967, p. 78). In Cubi V, the "cubes" are arranged in such a way as to suggest a weightless equilibrium rather than a labored construction. The two uppermost elements of the sculpture are not so much precariously balanced as inexplicably poised and the work is unified through its structural elegance. "The Cubis have compositional effects of balance, thrust, turning, even lyricism, all characteristics completely unassociable with the qualities of the basic cube components. It is not only that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts but that the inter- connecting, synergetic aspect of the work means that its authority derives from seeing these elements work together compositionally - indeed sometimes almost magically." (E. A. Carmean, Jr., David Smith, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1982, p. 204). In the 1930s and 1940s, Smith's sculpture was often created through the assemblage of found metal objects, in the tradition of the "objet trouve" Surrealist sculptures. This collage technique of assemblage continued in his working method on Cubi IV and Cubi V. Dan Budnik, who documented Smith's working methods from 1962 on, witnessed Smith working on this procedure during a visit to Bolton Landing in December 1962: "After opening a fresh bottle of cognac at the end of a good meal, I started to throw the cognac box into the fire. Smith let out a yell and snatched the box from the flames... Smith disappeared into the basement and emerged a few minutes later with a huge armload of liquor boxes. He began to arrange these, taping them together into cardboard sculpture." Budnik later discovered these cardboard works were almost identical to Cubi IV and Cubi V. (E. A. Carmean, pp. 39-40). These small-scale maquettes, made in December 1962, were followed by larger scale models made from carton boxes. The cardboard maquettes were then developed in stainless steel, a metal that Smith had been experimenting with since the early 1950s. The surfaces of the Cubis were finished by burnishing, making reflected light a central feature of the sculptures, and further defying the volumetric nature of the cubist elements. "Their brilliantly polished surfaces absorb the light with a stunning intensity, lifting their earthbound masses into the air until, at certain moments, it seems as if these sculptures are actually constructions of light itself, not so much occupying as illuminating the space that contains them." (Hilton Kramer in David Smith: a Memorial Exhibition, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1965, p. 6). Even if the sun failed to appear, Smith was adamant that his work belonged outdoors: "I have used atmosphere in a reflective way on the surfaces. They are colored by the sky and the surroundings, the green or blue of water. Some are down by the water and some are by the mountains. They reflect the colors. They are designed for outdoors." (Thomas Hess in David Smith, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York, 1964) The Cubis have been divided by critics into predominantly "architectural" or "figurative" forms. Cubi V clearly falls into the figurative category, the rectangular supporting form and the extended horizontal element suggesting limbs attached to the central cubic "torso". When asked, in 1961, whether the sculptures should in fact be seen as personages, Smith replied: "Even [an artist's] vision has to be made up of the forms and the world that he knows...There is no such thing as the truly abstract; man always has to work from his life." (interview with David Sylvester, 1961). The constantly changing effects of light and the re-interpretations possible depending on the angle of viewing mean that the "figure" of Cubi V is never static. Its monumentality however articulates Smith's mature confidence in his last works. He commented in 1964, "I am going to make them so big they can't even be moved...It's a defiant position... I'm building the biggest, the best god-damned sculptures I can make within my present limits, conceptually and financially." (interview with David Smith, June 1964). CUBI SERIES BY DAVID SMITH Cubi I Detroit Institute of Art Acquired in 1966 from the estate of the artist Cubi II Collection of Candida and Rebecca Smith Cubi III Mr. and Mrs. Philip Gersh, Beverly Hills Partial donation to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles Cubi IV Milwaukee Art Museum Acquired in 1977, Gift of Mrs. Harry Lynne Bradley Cubi V Collection of Mr. and Mrs. H. Gates Lloyd Haverford, Pennsylvania Cubi VI Israel Museum, Jerusalem Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Meshulam Riklis (Judith Stevn-Riklis) to American Friends of Israel Museum Cubi VII Art Institute of Chicago Acquired in 1964 from the estate of the artist Cubi VIII The Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas Acquired in 1969 from the estate of the artist Cubi IX Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Acquired in 1966 from the estate of the artist Cubi X Museum of Modern Art, New York Acquired in 1968 from the estate of the artist Cubi XI Universal Building North, Washington, D.C. Cubi XII Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Acquired in 1968 from the estate of the artist Cubi XIII Princeton University, New Jersey Acquired in 1969 from the estate of the artist Cubi XIV St. Louis Art Museum, Missouri Acquired in 1979 from Philip M. Stern, Washington, D.C. Cubi XV San Diego Museum, California Acquired in 1968 from the estate of the artist Cubi XVI Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo Acquired in 1968 from the estate of the artist Cubi XVII Museum of Fine Art, Dallas Acquired in 1965 from the estate of the artist Cubi XVIII Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Acquired in 1968 from the estate of the artist Cubi XIX The Tate Gallery, London Acquired in 1966 from the estate of the artist Cubi XX Wight Art Gallery of the University of California, Los Angeles Acquired in 1967, Gift of Mrs. Donald Bright Capen Cubi XXI Mrs. Jean Lipman (extended loan to the Whitney Museum of American Art since 1977) Cubi XXII Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven Acquired in 1968 from the estate of the artist Cubi XXIII Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles Acquired in 1967 from the estate of the artist Cubi XXIV Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Acquired in 1967 from the estate of the artist Cubi XXV Jane M. Davis, Medina, Washington Cubi XXVI National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Acquired in 1978, gift of Mr. Philip M. Stern, Washington, D.C. Cubi XXVII Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Acquired in 1967 from the estate of the artist Cubi XXVIII Sid Richardson Foundation, Fort Worth Extended loan to the Fort Worth Art Museum since 1984 Provenance: Acquired from the artist through Marlborough- Gerson Gallery in 1965 Exhibited: New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, David Smith, 1964, cat. no. 2, illustrated Philadelphia, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Selected Works from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. H. Gates Lloyd, 1967, cat. no. 9 Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art, David Smith, 1983, p. 210, illustrated Literature: Rosalind E. Krauss, The Sculpture of David Smith: A Catalogue Raisonne, New York and London, 1977, cat. no. 653, illustrated Karen Wilkin, David Smith, New York, 1984, p. 98, pl. 115, illustrated Estimate upon request.

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