Catalogue entry

T02004 GIFT WRAP 1963

Not inscribed

Oil on canvas in three sections, overall dimensions 79 1/8×208 13/16×31 3/4 (202×529×80)

Purchased from the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation Ltd (Knapping Fund) 1975
Coll: Kasmin Ltd; Peter Stuyvesant Foundation
Exh: Richard Smith, Kasmin Ltd., November–December 1963 (unnumbered, repr. on exhibition announcement); Nieuwe Realisten, Haags Gementemuseum, The Hague, June–August 1964 (136, repr. p.41); 5 Young British Artists, XXXIII Venice Biennale, June–October 1966 (British Pavilion 26, repr.); Richard Smith, Jewish Museum, New York, March–May 1968 (4, repr. in colour); Richard Smith, British Pavilion, XXXV Venice Biennale, June–October 1970 (repr., incorrectly dated 1966); Richard Smith: Seven Exhibitions 1961–75, Tate Gallery, August– September 1975 (14, repr. p.51)
Lit: Pierre Rouve, ‘Smith and Space’, Arts Review, XV, 16 November 1963, p.8, repr. Norbert Lynton ‘American Pop Art and Richard Smith’, London Letter, Art International, VIII, 1, 1964, pp.42–3; Jules Goddard 'Richard Smith; Isis, 7 March 1964, pp.16, 17; Lucy R. Lippard ‘Richard Smith; Conversations with the artist’, Art International, VIII, 9, 1964, pp.31–4, repr. p.33; Cyril Barrett, SJ., ‘Richard Smith: Sculptor or Painter?’, Art International, XI, 8, 1967, pp.35–8, repr. p.37

‘Gift Wrap’ was made at the same time as ‘Piano’ and for a general commentary on the construction and sources of these works see under T02003.

The title and image of ‘Gift Wrap’ are a direct reference to the Philip Morris cigarette pack, now discontinued, which had a red oval motif with a segment cut out. Smith remembered (conversation with the compiler 15 July 1976) that it was the only American cigarette readily available at any tobacconist in Britain, and that it was the brand that he smoked at that time. In 1959 he had won a Harkness Fellowship to travel in the United States and spent the next two years there. He returned to Britain in 1961 and taught painting at St Martins School of Art, London, until the end of the summer term in 1963. At the very beginning of 1964 he moved back to New York, emigrating this time. The use and immortalisation of an American cigarette packet (two giant packs in the work) expressed some of his deep pre-occupation with America and things American. Like ‘Piano’, ‘Gift Wrap’ demonstrates Smith's interest in the depiction both of the physical shape of boxes and in the use and meaning of their image. ‘The carton is an incessant theme in present-day civilisation: shops are full of boxes and you see these before you see the goods; they practically stand in for the goods-it is not just a question of labelling and depiction. Everything comes in boxes: you buy boxes when you are shopping, you do not buy visible goods; you don't buy cigarettes, only cartons’ (Dialogue with the artist in Whitechapel Art Gallery Richard Smith catalogue, 1966). The link with advertising material is emphasised by the scale of this work. ‘Gift Wrap’, even more than ‘Piano’, is of billboard scale, being over seventeen feet long and more than six feet high. The work also uses the play between real and depicted shadow, itself part of the illusionism which Smith had been developing in the two-dimensional works of the same year (‘Pagoda’, ‘Staggerlee’, ‘Vista’, and ‘Fleetwood’) and in the other three-dimensional canvases (‘Piano’, ‘Surfacing’ and ‘Re-Place’).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978