Press Release

David Smith: A Centennial

Tate Modern  Level 4 East
1 November 2006 – 21 January 2007

David Smith (1906 -1965) is unquestionably one of the most innovative and influential American sculptors of the twentieth century. This exhibition, of almost one hundred works lent from public and private collections around the world, will comprise the largest selection of his work ever shown in Europe. It provides a unique opportunity to introduce new audiences to his distinctive and original work. Iconic pieces on display will include works never seen before in this country, such as Australia 1951 and Cubi XXVII 1965.

The exhibition will begin with Smith’s early experiments with found objects in the 1930s. It will feature his exploration of both animate and inanimate forms within interiors from the 1940s and his examination of landscape in the 1950s in linear works that function like drawings in space. It will also include a group of important Agricola sculptures from the 1950s and conclude with a spectacular group of his Voltri pieces made in Italy in 1962, as well as a selection of Tanktotems and Cubis.

Smith constructed work out of iron and steel sheets and wires rather than employing traditional casting methods. A contemporary of Arshile Gorky and a friend of Willem de Kooning, he pioneered welding in sculpture and is best known for his innovative and remarkably diverse large-scale metal pieces constructed from used machine parts, abandoned tools and scrap metal. In the 1930s and 1940s, influenced by Surrealism and Constructivism, he created hybrid figural sculptures and in the 1950s, he began to work in stylistic series ranging from the complicated abstract drawings-in-space of the Agricolas to anthropomorphic and totemic sculptures incorporating machine parts such as the Sentinels and Tanktotems. In the later part of the decade and into the 1960s, his work became more concerned with abstraction, as in his series of Voltris, Wagons, and Cubis.

His work is well represented in Tate’s Collection and major pieces have been on view since Tate Modern opened. He remains, however, much less familiar to audiences than the group of Abstract Expressionist painters with whom he was closely associated and this exhibition examines his outstanding contribution to establishing sculpture as one of the most innovative art forms in the twentieth century. The lasting influence of his work can be seen in the work of many contemporary sculptors, not least in his use of industrial materials and found objects and in his liberation of sculpture from the plinth.

This exhibition will be made in conjunction with the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York and Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. There will be an English-language catalogue, published by the Guggenheim, presenting a newly-compiled, definitive bibliography and exhibition history for each sculpture in the exhibition. The catalogue will also feature the results of a major initiative currently underway to re-photograph key Smith sculptures.

The Tate Modern exhibition is being curated by Frances Morris, Curator, Tate, assisted by Maeve Polkinhorn, Assitant Curator, Tate. The exhibition will be at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, curated by Carmen Gímenez, from 3 February - 14 May 2006 and at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, curated by Isabelle Monod-Fontaine with Associate Curator Bénédicte Ajac, from 14 June - 21 August 2006.