David Smith: Sculptures: Room guide: Room 10

David Smith - Δ Σ 3-1-63 1963 Spray enamel on paper
David Smith - 5 Δ Σ 3-16-63 1963 Spray enamel on paper
David Smith - Cubi XIX, 1964 Stainless steel sculpture

The Cubi series of 28 stainless steel sculptures were made over a period of four years, from 1961 until Smith’s death in 1965, and are regarded as some of his most original and important works.

Smith occasionally made studies and maquettes for these works in his studio by taping together empty liquor and cigar boxes. By arranging hollow boxes in complex volumetric and spatial relationships Smith was able to translate the concerns of Cubist painting into sculpture. He explored the way we perceive space and movement by shifting similar geometric forms through various configurations.

The Cubis abandon pictorial and narrative ideas for an almost architectural embrace of absolute geometric form. The stark physical presence of these works suggests comparison to the subsequent Minimalist sculpture of artists such as Robert Morris and Donald Judd.

Instead of using paint effects to animate the surface of these works, Smith used burnishing to cover them with scribbles of light, which makes them extremely responsive to changing light conditions. ‘I like outdoor sculpture,’ he explained to Thomas Hess in 1964, ‘and the most practical thing for outdoor sculpture is stainless steel, and I made them and I polished them in such a way that on a dull day, they take on the dull blue, or the colour of the sky in the late afternoon sun, the glow, golden like the rays, the colours of nature.’

Cubi XXVII 1965 appears like a gate or portal, leading the eye through open space and harking back to the sculptural framing devices Smith had developed in mid-career works such as Hudson River Landscape 1951. Finished just a couple of months before the artist’s death in May 1965, the sculpture is a monumental testament to a rich and energetic career.