“Art has its tradition, but it is a visual heritage. The artist’s language is the memory from sight. Art is made from dreams, and visions, and things not known, and least of all from things that can be said. It comes from the inside of who you are when you face yourself. It is an inner declaration of purpose, it is a factor which determines artist identity.”—David Smith
David Smith was a pioneer of twentieth-century modernism, renowned for the expansive formal and conceptual ambitions of his broadly diverse and inventive welded-steel abstractions. As a modernist known for radically shifting the terms of sculpture, his groundbreaking achievements drew freely on cubism, surrealism, and constructivism, profoundly influencing later movements such as minimalism and environmental art.
We are proud to have published numerous books on Smith’s work, including the first comprehensive edition of his writings as part of our flagship Documents of Twentieth Century Art series, and a compelling scholarly study on the important role photography played in Smith’s art.
In honor of his birthday—he was born today in 1906—we offer up this selection of related titles for your reading pleasure.
Collected Writings, Lectures, and Interviews
Edited by Susan J. Cooke
“The David Smith that emerges here is impossible to simplify. He is learned and curious. He is obsessive, embattled, contradictory, and fierce. He is an artist of the utmost seriousness and commitment. By making available the persistence and intensity of his intellectual and aesthetic concerns over thirty years, this volume will dramatically alter the way one of America’s greatest artists is understood.”—Michael Brenson, art critic, art historian, and member of the sculpture faculty of Bard College’s Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts
This compilation of Smith’s poems, sketchbook notes, essays, lectures, letters to the editor, reviews, and interviews underscores the ways his writing articulated his private identity and promoted the social ideals that made him a key participant in contemporary discourses surrounding modernism, art and politics, and sculptural aesthetics. Each text is annotated by Susan J. Cooke with historical and contextual information that reflects Smith’s process of continually reviewing and revising his writings in response to his evolving aspirations as a visual artist.
David Smith in Two Dimensions
Photography and the Matter of Sculpture
by Sarah Hamill
“Does more than reveal the important role photography played in Smith’s art; it fundamentally alters how we see the works he photographed.”—Bookforum
David Smith in Two Dimensions looks at the sculptor’s adoption of unconventional backdrops, alternative vantage points, and unusual lighting effects and exposures to show how he used photography to dramatize and distance objects. This comprehensive and penetrating account also introduces Smith’s expansive archive of copy prints, slides, and negatives, many of which are seen here for the first time. Hamill proposes a new understanding of Smith’s sculpture through photography, exploring issues that are in turn vital to discourses of modern sculpture, sculptural aesthetics, and postwar art. In Smith’s photography, we see an artist moving fluidly between media to define what a sculptural object was and how it would be encountered publicly.
American Artists Against War
1935 – 2010
by David McCarthy
“An outstanding volume… American Artists Against War, 1935-2010 is a major contribution to the growing history of American political art.”—Paul von Blum, Truthdig
Beginning with responses to fascism in the 1930s and ending with protests against the Iraq wars, David McCarthy shows how American artists have borne witness, registered dissent, and asserted the enduring ability of imagination to uncover truths about individuals and nations. During what has been called the American Century, the United States engaged in frequent combat overseas while developing technologies of unprecedented lethality. Many artists, working collectively or individually, produced antiwar art to protest the use or threat of military violence in the service of an expansionist state. In so doing, they understood themselves to be fighting on behalf of two liberal beliefs: that their country was the guarantor of liberty against empire, and that modern art was a viable means of addressing the most compelling events and issues of the moment. Charting a seventy-five-year history of antiwar art and activism, American Artists against War, 1935–2010 lucidly tracks the continuities, preoccupations, and strategies of several generations.
A House Divided
American Art since 1955
by Anne Middleton Wagner
“Wagner always starts with the process of encountering specific works of art. Descriptive but never prescriptive, she avoids generalization and cuts through critical commonplace. . . . I found myself reading certain passages aloud, reveling in their conversational pace and cadence, their gentle wordplays and puns.”—Times Higher Education
In this exhilarating book, Anne Middleton Wagner challenges readers to rethink the work of a range of post-World War II artists—Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Maya Lin, Bruce Nauman, and Agnes Martin among them—and thus to re-assess the relationship of art to politics and social life. The art of U.S. empire, she argues, is marked by deep dividedness. Painters and sculptors seemed entranced by American symbols, yet used them to enigmatic ends—exuberant, nightmarish, or both. Nor could postwar culture decide if it preserved sites devoted to productive withdrawal—for artists, the special zone called the studio—or simply maintained a margin where numbed subjects rehearsed the rites of vanished self-expression. This book charts the to-and-fro in recent American art between acknowledging the facts of nation and consumerism, and searching for meaningful models. And it shows that this process engages—even structures—national history and the citizen’s self.