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‘It Will Explode with Color’: David Smith Sculpture Survey Comes to England

David Smith, Primo Piano III, 1962.

COURTESY COLLECTION OF CANDIDA AND REBECCA SMITH

For the first time in more than a decade, Abstract Expressionist sculptor David Smith will be the subject of a large-scale survey in the United Kingdom, with a solo exhibition to be presented as part of the inaugural Yorkshire Sculpture International. Opening June 22 and continuing through September, the sculpture festival—spanning four galleries and parks in Leeds and Wakefield, England—will also showcase works by Damien Hirst, Huma Bhabha, Rashid Johnson, and others.

The presentation of Smith’s work at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park will bring together 38 sculptures created between the 1930s and ’60s. Smith died in 1965 at the age of 59 in a car accident in Vermont. Six of his welded pieces will be situated near a 19th-century yew hedge on a rectangular lawn in view of the institution’s Underground Gallery, where 32 works will be installed. Clare Lilley, head curator and director of program at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, told ARTnews that, though one space will be dimly lit so as to protect the surfaces of some early and painted works, most of the exhibition “will explode with color.”

David Smith, Construction (Lyndhaven), 1932.

COURTESY ESTATE OF DAVID SMITH

“Painted steel, stainless steel, and rusted steel sculptures will be silhouetted against the dark green, as luminous and sincere as the day they were made,” she said, speaking of how the works will be sited in the landscape. “Smith clearly connected to an ancient tradition of making and fettling, and this exhibition examines how his work connects to a long trajectory of human activity and social impulse.”

Lilley called the undertaking “an extremely complex project” logistically, with sculptures journeying to Yorkshire from the Whitney Museum in New York, the Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg, Germany, the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, the Netherlands, and elsewhere. Among the works in the exhibition are Construction (Lyndhaven) 1932, The Five Spring (1955–56), and Primo Piano III (1962).

In organizing the show and securing some of the loans, Lilley worked with Smith’s daughters, Rebecca and Candida Smith, who are providing an eclectic selection of objects the artist collected in Europe during the ’30s—including a leather wine jug from Greece, a Spanish spur, and the hour hand of a Florentine clock featuring the sun and moon, to name a few—that will make their first trip outside the artist’s former home and studio in Bolton Landing, New York, for the exhibition.

“I’m thrilled that we will show such important sculptures in Yorkshire,” Lilley said. “Smith is frequently characterized as testosterone-fueled, but I think this exhibition will surprise many by its playfulness, humanity, and subtlety.”

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