Lot 22
  • 22

David Smith

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Description

  • David Smith
  • VOLTRI BOLTON X
  • inscribed David Smith, dated 12-22-62 and titled Voltri Bolton X on the base
  • steel

Catalogue Note

A contemporary of the Abstract Expressionists, David Smith was arguably the father of post-war American sculpture and had a marked influence on a subsequent generation of artists – many of whom are included in Beyond Limits 2017. His work placed an emphasis on the use of new and unusual materials, industrial techniques and monumental scale.

In 1962 Smith was invited by the Italian government to make two sculptures for a festival in Spoleto. He was given access to an abandoned welding factory in the town of Voltri in Italy and he set up a studio there. The experience led to a period of frenzied creativity with Smith creating twenty-seven sculptures over a period of only thirty days. Inspired by this experience, upon his return to his studio in Bolton Landing, New York, Smith embarked upon the Voltri Bolton series, using the found tools and industrial detritus he had collected and shipped back from the abandoned factories of the Italian countryside. Alongside the twenty-four other sculptures from this series, Voltri Bolton X exemplifies Smith’s captivating juxtaposition of abstract form with a latent figuration. As the tenth in this iconic group, the present work is, significantly, the last sculpture of the series executed in the initial year of 1962, with an additional fifteen sculptures added over the course of the following year.

Combining both found and forged material, the Voltri Boltons represent a conceptual bridge between the burst of creativity which consumed Smith at Voltri and the burgeoning major series which dominated the artist’s output in his final years at Bolton Landing. As the artist’s daughter, Candida Smith, recalls: ‘My father returned home that summer invigorated and jubilant […]. It was after his return from Italy that the fields began to burgeon at an amazing rate. It was as if the creative explosion and the resulting enormous installation in Spoleto ignited a fire that did not burn out. The Voltri-Boltons were made along with the painted circle pieces, Primo Pianos, Zigs and Cubis’ (Candida N. Smith, The Fields of David Smith, New York, 1999, pp. 30-32). The years following were a time of creative ingenuity as Smith worked on multiple series with the flow of ideas freely informing one series with the innovations of the other. The striking square elements which line the perimeter of the central circular form of Voltri Bolton X are particularly evocative of the bold geometric shapes of Smith’s celebrated Cubi series; like the Cubis, the intricately welded metal of the present work presents an elegant yet weighty presence that, created around open spaces rather than carved in concrete form, testifies to Smith’s genius for balancing void and solid within a single sculpture.

The genesis of the present work was documented in arresting detail by the photographer Ugo Mulas in a series of photographs that show Smith arranging the jagged shards of metal detritus in an intricate circle upon his studio floor, carefully weighing the addition of each element with an exacting deliberation. When the sculpture ultimately assumed its upright position, the skeletal form was delicately balanced upon a single pillar of roughened steel, with the four hinged blacksmith tongs affixed to the crown appear to reaching emphatically towards the sky as the haunting symbols of an industrial modernism now rendered obsolete. Describing the significance of the series within her father’s œuvre, Smith’s daughter reflects: ‘To me, the voices of…the Voltri-Boltons challenge ‘Who goes there?’ with a weapon to hand. Human scale, they confront the viewer with that most probing of questions’ (ibid., p. 25).

Voltri Bolton X was featured in the seminal 2006 retrospective David Smith: A Centennial, organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, and traveling to both the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Tate Modern in London. Last year, it was also selected to represent Smith’s œuvre in the landmark exhibition Abstract Expressionism, inaugurated at the Royal Academy in London and travelling to the Guggenheim Bilbao in the first half of this year. Held in the esteemed collection of Jerome and Ellen Stern for over four decades, Voltri Bolton X is an enduring monument to the legacy of one of American postwar art’s most radical sculptural innovators. 

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