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
“An essential account of America’s greatest sculptor . . . [A] magnum opus.” —Marjorie Perloff, The Times Literary Supplement
The landmark biography of the inscrutable and brilliant David Smith, the greatest American sculptor of the twentieth century.
David Smith, a pioneer of Abstract Expressionism, did more than any other sculptor of his era to bring the plastic arts to the forefront of the American scene. Central to his project of reimagining sculptural experience was challenging the stability of any identity or position—Smith sought out the unbounded, 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 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, Tanktotems, and Zigs. It explores his at times tempestuous personal life, marked by marriages, divorces, and fallings-out as well as by deep friendships with fellow artists like 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.” This enormous, contradictory vitality was true of his work as well. He was a bricoleur, a master welder, a painter, a photographer, and a writer, and he entranced critics and attracted admirers wherever he showed his work. With this book, Brenson has contextualized Smith for a new generation and confirmed his singular place in the history of American art.