The Art and Life of a Transformational Sculptor
by Michael Brenson
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Pub Date 04 Oct 2022 | Archive Date 30 Nov 2022
The landmark biography of the inscrutable and brilliant David Smith, the greatest American sculptor of the twentieth century.
The artist David Smith once wrote, “'Humanism' is a useless word in my time.” A member of the abstract expressionist generation, he would do more than any sculptor of his era to bring the plastic arts to the forefront of the American scene. Central to this project was his desire to explode the logic that equated representation and harmony with humanistic values in the postwar era—instead, Smith sought out the unbalanced and unexpected, creating works of art that seem to undergo radical shifts as the spectator moves from one point of view to another. So groundbreaking and prolific were his contributions to American art that by the time Smith was just forty years old, Clement Greenberg was already calling him “the greatest sculptor this country has produced.”
Michael Brenson’s David Smith: The Art and Life of a Transformational Sculptor is the first major biography of this epochal figure. It follows Smith from his upbringing in the Midwest, to his heady early years in Manhattan, to his decision to establish a permanent studio in Bolton Landing in upstate New York, where he would create many of his most significant works—among them the Cubis, Tanktomems, and Zigs. It explores his at times tempestuous personal life, marked by marriages, divorces, and fallings-out, as well as by deep friendships with the likes of Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Motherwell. His wife Jean Freas described him as “Salty and bombastic, jumbo and featherlight, thin-skinned and Mack Truck. And many more things”—and this was true of his work as well. He was a bricoleur, a skilled welder, a painter, and a writer, and he entranced critics and attracted admirers wherever he showed his work.
With this book, richly illustrated with more than one hundred photographs, Brenson has contextualized Smith for a new generation of fans and confirmed his singular place in the history of American art.