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David Smith: Sculpture 1932–1965

As part of Yorkshire Sculpture International

Underground Gallery and Open Air
Current
22 Jun 2019–5 Jan 2020

‘David Smith, the Michelangelo of welding...The painters of abstract expressionism didn't reinvent the wheel; Smith did.’

Waldemar Januszczak, The Sunday Times Culture

YSP presents a major exhibition of over 40 works by the pioneering and highly influential American artist David Smith (1906-1965).

Widely hailed as one of the 20th century’s outstanding sculptors, this is the first solo exhibition of Smith’s work in the UK since Tate Modern’s 2006 project and the largest ever outside the capital. This landmark exhibition charts the development of Smith’s unique visual language over four decades, crucially bringing together a number of his sculptures in the open-air that are rarely seen in this way outside the USA. Within the Underground Gallery over 30 sculptures trace an unfolding narrative of material, technique and form. Beginning with Smith’s earliest constructions from the 1930s that combine wood with elements including mussel and clam shells, wire and nails, the exhibition spans work through to the artist’s mature, bold, large-scale painted and stainless steel sculptures of the 1960s.
 
David Smith: Sculpture 1932-1965 is YSP’s headline exhibition for 2019 and our principal contribution to the inaugural Yorkshire Sculpture International, produced in partnership with the Henry Moore Institute, The Hepworth Wakefield, and Leeds Art Gallery. Yorkshire Sculpture International comprises a number of exhibitions exploring artist Phyllida Barlow’s statement that “sculpture is the most anthropological of the arts”. With Yorkshire’s rich history as the birthplace and inspiration for sculptors including Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, our collaboration considers the human impulse to connect with objects, investigating both the physical diversity and the political agency of sculpture in the 20th and 21st centuries.
 
Smith challenged sculptural conventions and was the first artist in the USA to work with welded metal, becoming known for his mastery of steel. Although hugely influential to the development of abstract sculpture internationally, few of his works are held in non-US public collections, so he is rarely shown in Europe. Displayed at YSP, an incisive selection of sculptures includes major loans from museums and private collections, together with works from the artist’s estate, including objects from his home that have not previously been exhibited.

‘*** Smith alone is reason enough to visit Yorkshire’

Alastair Smart, The Mail on Sunday

Given the unique indoor-outdoor nature of YSP, a starting point for the exhibition is the importance to Smith of having his work in the open air, which in 1950 Robert Motherwell expressed as, “…an ineffable desire to see his humanness related to exterior reality, to nature at least if not to man.” Smith’s life was inextricably associated with his rural home and studio at Bolton Landing in upstate New York, where from the mid-1950s onwards, he filled the surrounding fields with sculpture, enjoying seeing them against the landscape, with the play of changing light across their surfaces. These sculptures were his companions, his achievements, and inspiration for future sculptures and by the time of his death in 1965, dozens of sculptures occupied ‘the fields’. Primo Piano III (1962), one of only three similar works by Smith, also makes a critical contribution to the open-air display. 

Also in the landscape at YSP, three works from the important Voltri series, that the artist made in Italy during a particularly creative and prolific period working in an abandoned steel factory, show the diversity of his approach to found material and to scale. YSP is uniquely placed to draw out Smith’s fusion of industry and nature, in a region recognised both for its towering heritage in steel and renowned for its scenic beauty.
 
The impressive Cubi XIX (1964) made in stainless steel indicates Smith’s ability in working this stubborn material, which in his hands becomes fluid while retaining its inherent qualities of tensile strength and durability. For Smith, the burnished, reflective surface of the material made it the perfect foil to explore the interchange of sculpture and painting, and to express the evolving relationship between his work and the natural environment: “I made them and I polished them in such a way that on a dull day, they take on the dull blue, or the color of the sky in the late afternoon sun… They reflect the colors.
 
Highlights inside the gallery include Smith’s earliest sculptures, made in or with materials sourced from the Virgin Islands, which he visited in 1931-32. A selection of mixed media and wire Constructions (1932-33) indicate Smith’s evolving understanding of assembled and counterbalanced forms.
 
Also from the 1930s and reflecting the significant developments in his work over this period are Smith’s pivotal first welded pieces comprising found industrial objects. In 1933 he saw images of welded metal sculptures made collaboratively by Spanish artists Pablo Picasso and Julio González, and he described this moment as his ‘technical liberation’, realising that the industrial processes with which he was familiar and the making of art could come together. Created soon afterwards, Saw Head (1933) and Chain Head (1933) are perhaps the first sculptures ever made in this way in the United States.

‘The final pieces: gravity-defying and completely abstract juxtapositions of cuboid steel forms that seem to hang weightless over YSP's lawns, still project a dazzling sense of immediacy and sheer newness.’

Mark Hudson, The Telegraph

David Smith Collection

Merchandise exlusive to YSP, ranging from Limited edition screen prints to exclusive stationery and posters.

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Smith’s understanding of the social practice and role of art is also drawn out. A politically engaged and strident believer in the need for the United States to be outward-facing and connected to the wider world, as well as being relevant to all branches and levels of society, his anti-Fascist stance is vividly illustrated by examples from the Medals for Dishonor series. In a prescient statement he wrote: “The tradition of our art is international, as are American people, customs and science. There is no true American art and there is no true American mind. Our art tradition is that of the Western world, which originally had its tradition in the East. Art cannot be divorced from time, place, or science.”
 
Smith aligned himself to an anthropological thread, embracing a creative continuity from prehistoric artefacts and ethnographic art, to that which is displayed within Eastern and Western art historical cultures. Smith spoke of his ‘workstream’, with connotations of connecting to an ancient tradition of working material by hand, and this exhibition examines the immediacy of his sculpture; its obdurate yet tactile nature; its shared space with man, machine, and natural forms; and the social and human impulse through which Smith developed abstraction from the automotive factory and foundry. For the first time ever, a number of artefacts that Smith collected whilst in Europe in the 1930s and which fed his imagination and emerging practice, will be shown in a didactic space.
 
Encapsulating the artist’s lyrical, linear work from the 1950s, the iconic Hudson River Landscape is a vital and dynamic sculpture that synthesises and translates a train journey regularly taken by Smith into a captivating, whorled three-dimensional form. Smith deftly captures the essence of movement and memory, melding abstraction with narrative. Within the light-filled central gallery, Smith’s striking larger scale sculptures from the 1960s reveal the importance of surface and colour alongside bold and concentrated form; an ever burgeoning output from a life and practice cut short in its prime.

This exhibition has been made possible as a result of the Government Indemnity Scheme. Yorkshire Sculpture Park would like to thank HM Government for providing Government Indemnity and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Arts Council England for arranging the indemnity.

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David Smith A5 Sketchbook

£8

This A5 cloth sketchbook, featuring 'David Smith' in black and grey on the front cover, was created especially for the David Smith: Sculpture 1932-1965 exhibition.  

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David Smith A6 Sketchbook

£6.50

This A6 cloth sketchbook, featuring 'David Smith' in black and grey on the front cover, was created especially for the David Smith: Sculpture 1932-1965 exhibition.  

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David Smith Luxury Tote Bag

£35

A luxury tote bag featuring Gondola II (1964), created especially for the David Smith: Sculpture 1932-1965 exhibition. – Material: cotton canvas  

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David Smith Pencil

£1.50

Black pencil with 'David Smith' engraved, created especially for the David Smith: Sculpture 1932-1965 exhibition.  

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David Smith Square Magnet

£3

Square magnet featuring Gondola II, created especially for the David Smith: Sculpture 1932-1965 exhibition. – 65 x 65mm  

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David Smith: Sculpture 1932-1965 Catalogue

£25

David Smith: Sculpture 1932-1965 is published by YSP to celebrate and document this exceptional exhibition. Replete with in situ photography by Jonty Wilde, the catalogue reveals the development...

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Damien Hirst: The Virgin Mother Book Bag

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White 100% cotton book bag featuring The Virgin Mother (2005-6) by Damien Hirst. Includes two perspectives of the work shown on the front and back. – Lined in white –...

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Damien Hirst: The Virgin Mother T-Shirt

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Black 100% cotton unisex shaped t-shirt featuring The Virgin Mother (2005-6) by Damien Hirst. Includes a full print of the work on the front of the t-shirt and Damien Hirst studio and YSP...

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David Smith A5 Sketchbook

£8

This A5 cloth sketchbook, featuring 'David Smith' in black and grey on the front cover, was created especially for the David Smith: Sculpture 1932-1965 exhibition.  

Shop

David Smith A6 Sketchbook

£6.50

This A6 cloth sketchbook, featuring 'David Smith' in black and grey on the front cover, was created especially for the David Smith: Sculpture 1932-1965 exhibition.  

Shop

David Smith Luxury Tote Bag

£35

A luxury tote bag featuring Gondola II (1964), created especially for the David Smith: Sculpture 1932-1965 exhibition. – Material: cotton canvas  

Shop

David Smith Pencil

£1.50

Black pencil with 'David Smith' engraved, created especially for the David Smith: Sculpture 1932-1965 exhibition.  

Shop

David Smith Square Magnet

£3

Square magnet featuring Gondola II, created especially for the David Smith: Sculpture 1932-1965 exhibition. – 65 x 65mm  

Shop

YSI A5 Notebook

Was £3.50 Now £2

Created for Yorkshire Sculpture International, these A5 notebooks features the YSI logo and a quote from Phyllida Barlow saying "Everyone Has Imagination". – A5 sized –...

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YSI Pencil

Was £0.75 Now £0.50

Created for Yorkshire Sculpture International, these pencils made from recycled CDs, feature the YSI logo and a quote from Phyllida Barlow saying "Everyone has imagination". –...

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YSI Tote Bag

Was £6 Now £4

Created for Yorkshire Sculpture International, this bag features the YSI logo on one side and a quote from Phyllida Barlow on the other saying ''Everyone has...

Press Release

Yorkshire Sculpture Park presents a major exhibition of work by the great American artist David Smith

13 Dec 2018

David Smith: Sculpture 1932-1965 Part of Yorkshire Sculpture International 22 June 2019–5 January 2020 Underground Gallery and Open Air Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) presents a major...

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