Exuding a bold tenacity and breathtaking formal dexterity, the commanding silhouette of Voltri-Bolton X fiercely claims the space it inhabits, serving as an enduring testament to the astounding innovation, ambition, and unparalleled creative genius of David Smith at the dazzling apex of his iconic sculptural practice. Widely recognized as amongst the greatest American sculptors of the Twentieth Century, Smith’s renowned sculptural alchemy is nowhere more evident than in the present work; exhibiting a careful juxtaposition of brawny physicality with precise geometric form, the intricate skeleton of Voltri-Bolton X possesses an expressive dynamism that resonates with each viewer who stands before it. Alongside the twenty-four other sculptures from Smith’s limited series of Voltri-Bolton sculptures, created by the artist as a continuation and elaboration of his trip to Italy in the fall of 1962, Voltri-Bolton X represents the critical creative link between the explosive creative inspiration Smith experienced abroad and the spectacular genius of the sculptural series he initiated upon his return to Bolton Landing. In its intricate geometric logic and arresting frontality, the present work is particularly evocative of the artist’s Cubi sculptures; evincing the captivating juxtaposition of abstract form with compelling figuration for which the revered Cubi are known, the four delicate armatures of Voltri-Bolton X reach ever skyward, profoundly embodying the thrilling denial of gravity that characterizes Smith’s extraordinary oeuvre. In the remarkable series of photographs detailing the creation of the present work, taken by acclaimed photographer Dan Budnik during a 1963 visit to Bolton Landing, Smith’s painstaking arrangement of intricate geometric fragments slowly resolves to reveal a work of spectacular sculptural ingenuity. Testifying to the supreme caliber and immense historical import of the present work, Voltri-Bolton X was featured in the blockbuster 2006 exhibition David Smith: A Centennial, organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, and travelling to both the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Tate Modern in London; last year, the sculpture was selected to represent Smith’s oeuvre in the landmark exhibition Abstract Expressionism, inaugurated at the Royal Academy in London and traveling 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 and legendary sculptural innovators.
Precisely numbered in consecutive order, the twenty-five sculptures of Smith’s acclaimed Voltri-Bolton series offer both a zealous celebration of the central tenets of Smith’s sculptural oeuvre and a compelling, deeply intimate insight into his artistic practice. Initiated in the fall of 1962, following the artist’s return from a legendary summer sojourn in Voltri, Italy, these sculptures emphatically attest to the unprecedented artistic energy which filled Smith while abroad. Working in the defunct industrial factories surrounding Voltri, Smith created an extraordinary twenty-five sculptures in roughly thirty days – an unprecedented pace for any artist working in welded metal. 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 painstakingly collected and shipped back from the abandoned factories of the Italian countryside. As the tenth member of this iconic group, Voltri-Bolton X 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 remarkable burst of creativity which consumed Smith at Voltri and the great burgeoning of 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, p. 30-32) The years following were a time of creative ingenuity and interplay among simultaneous series, unparalleled in Smith’s oeuvre, and the flow of ideas freely informed one series with the innovations of the other. The striking square elements that 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 from concrete form, testifies to Smith’s genius for balancing void and solid within a single sculpture. By the artist’s death in 1965, the fields of Bolton Landing were filled with over eighty sculptures, as Smith carefully stationed his standing sentinels in conjunction with each other and with the dramatic surrounding landscape.
In the series of arresting photographs that document the creation of Voltri-Bolton X, Smith arranges the jagged shards of metal detritus in an intricate circle upon his studio floor, carefully weighing the addition of each element with painstaking deliberation. When the sculpture ultimately assumes its upright position, the skeletal form delicately balanced upon a single pillar of roughened steel, the four hinged blacksmith tongs affixed to the crown appear to reach emphatically towards the sky, their grasping apertures hauntingly evocative as symbols of an industrial modernism now rendered obsolete. Exhibited alongside numerous Twentieth Century masterpieces as part of Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy, the grandeur of scale, potent physicality of material, and intuitive fusion of disparate influences exemplified in Voltri-Bolton X finds particular affinity with the radical spirit of such artists as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. Indeed, while Smith melded his abstract compositions with traces of figuration and landscape throughout the entirety of his oeuvre, the humanist contours of Voltri-Bolton X resonate with unique emphasis as, installed at Bolton Landing, the present work surveys its comrades in Smith’s iconic fields. Describing the significance of the series within her father’s oeuvre, 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)
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