David Smith: Sculptures: Room guide: Room 6

David Smith - Tanktotem III 1953 Steel sculpture

David SmithTanktotem III 1953Steel

Collection of Mr. and Mrs. David Mirvish, Toronto

David Smith - Sentinel I 1956 Painted steel sculpture

David SmithSentinel I 1956Painted steel

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C, Gift of the Collectors' Committee

David Smith - Tanktotem IX 1960 Painted steel sculpture

David SmithTanktotem IX 1960 Painted steel

The Estate of David Smith, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

Late in 1951 there was a radical change in the way Smith worked, as he began to number and designate works in series. He went on to make over 16 separate series, comprising as many as 28 works each.

Another development in the early 1950s was his growing preoccupation with the standing figure in works such as the Tanktotems and the Sentinels. ‘It was the soar of the human figure that held him, the uncompromising thrust it makes, the fight it carries on with the force of gravity’, wrote Clement Greenberg. The Tanktotems were made using boiler parts and cylindrical steel tank parts which he ordered from a catalogue, providing the convex and concave forms that are the hallmarks of this series.

In 1956 Smith began to paint the surfaces of his sculptures in an expressive style, with notable examples including 1956 and Tanktotem IX 1960. Around this time he also started using industrial ‘I’ beams extensively as a component in the Sentinel sculptures, and used wheels as part of the base for the first time in Sentinel III 1957.