David Smith

Cubi XIX


Stainless steel
Object: 2864 x 1480 x 1016 mm 225 kg
Purchased 1966

Display caption

The twenty-eight 'Cubi' sculptures were the last series made by Smith before his death in 1965. They are composed of simple geometric shapes and relate, as the name suggests, to Cubist painting and sculpture. In 'Cubi XIX', and a number of related pieces, the forms on the cross beam are arranged rather like a still life, though elevated by the vertical beam. Smith intended the 'Cubi' works to be shown outside, so that the burnishing of the stainless steel would reflect changes in lighting conditions. The geometric forms were softened by this response to the environment as Smith anticipated in a note on a sketch: 'polished - like I feel if I make square clouds'.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

David Smith 1906-1965

T00891 Cubi XIX 1964

Inscribed 'David Smith 2-20-64 CUBI XIX' on base
Stainless steel, 112 3/4 x 58 1/4 x 40 (286.5 x 148 x 101.5)
Purchased from the artist's estate through the Marlborough-Gerson Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1966
Exh: David Smith, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York, October 1964 (8, repr.); Etats-Unis: Sculptures du XXe Siécle, Musée Rodin, Paris, June-October 1965 (58, repr.); David Smith 1906-1965, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, May-July 1966 (42); David Smith 1906-1965, Tate Gallery, August-September 1966 (43, repr.); David Smith Skulpturen, Kunsthalle, Basle, October-November 1966 (42, repr.); David Smith, Kunsthalle, Nuremberg, January-February 1967 (42, repr.); David Smith, Wilhelm-Lehmbruck-Museum, Duisburg, April-May 1967 (42, repr.)
Lit: D. J. [Donald Judd], 'David Smith' in Arts, XXXIX, December 1964, p.62, repr. p.63; Jane Harrison Cone and Margaret Paul, 'The Sculpture of David Smith: A Handlist' in exh. catalogue David Smith 1906-1965, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass., September-November 1966, No.523 in handlist, p.82, repr. fig. 57; Clement Greenberg, 'David Smith' in Art in America, LIV, January-February 1966, pp.28-9, 32; Rosalind E. Krauss, The Sculpture of David Smith: A Catalogue Raisonné (New York and London 1977), No.667, pp.116-17, 120, repr. fig. 666 (incorrectly captioned 'Cubi XVIII')
Repr: Ronald Alley, Recent American Art (London 1969), pl.28; Cleve Gray (ed.), Sculpture and Writings by David Smith (London 1968), p.122 in colour

David Smith made twenty-eight large stainless steel sculptures called 'Cubi', all of which are strictly geometrical in form. Although 'Cubi I' is dated 4 March 1963, the earliest seems to be 'Cubi IX' which is dated 26 October 1961 and it is evident that the pieces were not always numbered in the order in which they were made. Thus Smith's last completed work is said to have been 'Cubi XXVI', but there are also two further, completely finished sculptures known as 'Cubi XXVII' and 'Cubi XXVIII'. The work bought by the Tate, 'Cubi XIX', is dated 20 February 1964. It is one of four 'Cubis' (XVII, XVIII, XIX, XX) of 1963-4 in which the stainless steel boxes or discs are grouped well above the ground on a kind of platform.

Rosalind E. Krauss writes (letter of 16 November 1973): 'I do not know why the numbering is the way it is unless (and this is purely hypothetical) Smith signed and dated them in large batches beginning in 1963 - noting the dates on their bases according to the records he kept of his work (in the form of drawings) but assigning numbers to them rather arbitrarily. (One possibility might be that the numbers relate to the order in which they stood in the fields). What I can tell you, however, is that "Cubi IX" (26 October 1961) is probably not the first, i.e. earliest, one. In 1959 Smith made a sketch for a work which he executed in 1961. Next to the sketch he wrote: "polished - like I feel if I make square clouds". The resultant sculpture dated Oct. 11 1961 he called "Cube III". It is the only one in the series that is not called "cubi" and from its stylistic features it does seem to relate to works from the late fifties rather than to the rest of the "Cubis". Yet it is executed in the manner of the rest of the series - fabricated stainless steel volumes with burnished surfaces. "Cubi IX" came next. It was shipped to Spoleto for exhibition in June of 1962. When Smith got back to Bolton Landing he must have begun the next - "Cubi VIII" which is dated Dec. 24 1962. Then come all the ones done in the late winter and early spring of '63: "Cubi I", IV, VI, VII, X, XI, XII, and XIII. What seems to me to be the case is that the idea of the Cubis as a series did not occur to Smith until he was well into the third or fourth one, at which point he changed the name from "Cube" to "Cubi" and numbered the group which he had made up to that point in the spring of 1963'.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.692-3, reproduced p.692