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Hauser & Wirth Zurich: "David Smith: Four Sculptures"

Hauser & Wirth gallery on Bahnhofstrasse 1 in Zurich presents "David Smith: Four Sculptures"by David Smith (1906–1965), who was a major figure in 20th-century art and the sculptor most directly linked to the abstract expressionist movement.

Smith is renowned for his use of commercial materials and methods as well as the use of free space into his works. The exhibition "David Smith: Four Sculptures" will be on display in gallery's glass-fronted facade, 9 December 2022 – 6 April 2023, featuring four amazing painted sculptures by Smith from the early 1960s, as part of the exhibition.

David Smith. Zig I (detail). 1961- Painted steel- Overall: 245.1 x144.8 x 81.9 cm / 96 1/2 x 57 x 32 1/4 in. Photo: Stefan Altenburger, Photography Zürich. All images © 2022 The Estate of David Smith / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY Courtesy the Estate and Hauser & Wirth.

Regarded as one of the most innovative sculptors of his generation, David Smith (1906–65) sought to redefine what sculpture could be in the modern world. Born in Decatur, Indiana, Smith worked as an automobile welder before moving to New York City, where he studied painting at the Art Students League. He is widely acknowledged for having created the first welded metal sculpture in the United States and for his ability to use steel as an expressive, sculptural material. Over a 33-year career, he broadened the cultural and material conditions of sculpture while questioning and advancing its relationship with nature. Smith often worked on multiple series at the same time and regarded his sculptures, paintings, and drawings as part of a continuous flow of creativity.

Smith's painted sculpture - an idea with base in ancient art

Smith worked simultaneously in both painting and sculpture throughout his career, referring to himself as both, "I've always created painted sculpture.". Smith incorporated painting ideas into his sculpture and vice versa, citing the fusion of painting and sculpture in ancient Egyptian and Greek art.

By the early 1960s, he had reached a new level of creativity: in the last five years of his life, he produced nearly one-third of his total sculptural output while working on a monumental scale. The large, painted works in "David Smith: Four Sculptures" are outstanding examples of the culmination of Smith’s long exploration of color and form. "Zig I" (1961) is a part of Smith’s Zig series that comprises seven large-scale, vertical works, each numbered by the artist. The series’ name was an "affectionate term," according to Smith, that derived from "ziggurat"—a stepped pyramid found in ancient Mesopotamia.

Each of the Zigs features inventive arrangements of planes and rounded forms that yield surprising spatial relationships as a viewer walks around the sculpture. "Zig I" is made from cut sections of steel tubes that ascend in a playful dance along a vertical axis. An application of feathery, black brushstrokes over a russet ground activates the surface of this work, capturing the gestural vigor seen in the work of Smith's fellow abstract expressionists.

David Smith. Zig I (detail). 1961- Painted steel- Overall: 245.1 x144.8 x 81.9 cm / 96 1/2 x 57 x 32 1/4 in. Photo: Stefan Altenburger, Photography Zürich.

In 1962, Smith was invited to make two sculptures for an exhibition associated with the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy. Working with a crew of local metalworkers in an abandoned steel factory in the nearby town of Voltri, Smith produced a total of twenty-seven sculptures within a month. The experience would have a profound impact on Smith’s work.

David Smith, Primo Piano II. 1962. Steel, bronze, stainless steel, paint. 225.1 x 408.3 x 79.4 cm / 88 5/8 x 160 3/4 x 31 1/4 in. Photo: Ron Amstutz.

After returning to Bolton Landing, he sustained the energy he demonstrated in Voltri and made, over a six-week period, three large sculptures that define his Primo Piano series. The title is Italian for "first floor"—the floor above the ground floor—where, Smith explained, "most of the action takes place." In "Primo Piano II" (1962), for example, two vertical elements elevate a central, horizontal beam, above which a dynamic interplay of different shapes and metals unfolds across a span over thirteen feet long. In a natural setting, this large-scale sculpture commands a strong visual presence as a graphic contrast to the landscape. While the other two works in this series are entirely white, "Primo Piano II" incorporates elements of unpainted bronze and stainless steel that introduce compelling variations within the work itself.

David Smith. Gondola II. 1964. Steel, painted. 278.8 x 274.3 x 45.7cm / 109 3/4 x 108 x 18in. Jon Etter.

Smith described "Gondola II" (1964) as his latest painted sculpture in a lecture delivered at Bennington College shortly before his untimely death in May 1965. Smith left behind an expansive, complex, and powerful body of work that continues to exert influence on younger generations of artists. Exhibitions devoted to David Smith’s work have been presented internationally since the 1950s. The Museum of Modern Art in New York, NY, presented Smith’s first retrospective in 1957. Smith represented the United States at the So Paulo Biennale in 1951, as well as at the Venice Biennale in 1954 and 1958.

The chromatic surface of "Gondola II" is elegantly articulated, with a black, diamond-shaped plane topped by a cream-colored stanchion and flanked by two cloud-like forms, one in cream and the other a deep purple—tonal contrasts that counterbalance the general symmetry of the work. The title is a reference to the Italian name for the cart used in factories, such as Smith's workspace in Voltri, to transport large, heavy materials. Smith would incorporate the term "gondola" into the titles of two other large, planar sculptures, now in museum collections. He made the first "Gondola" in 1961 as a response, in sculpture, to Robert Motherwell’s renowned series of paintings, "Elegy to the Spanish Republic." A dialogue through art with other artists was part of Smith’s "workflow" and inspiration. "David Smith: Four Sculptures" offers a rare opportunity to consider these distinct sculptures in relation to one another and to explore the many ways Smith mined history and his own prolific career to continue expanding the definition of sculpture.

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