Press Release

Tate acquires major sculpture by David Smith for the nation

The Tate Gallery announced today the acquisition of Wagon II (1964) by the celebrated American sculptor David Smith. This is one of the most important works by Smith to have remained in private hands. It has been purchased from Candida and Rebecca Smith, the artist’s daughters, for $5.1 million. The purchase has been funded largely through the generosity of the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, with assistance from the National Art Collections Fund, the independent art charity.

David Smith (1906-1965) was the leading sculptor of the Abstract Expressionist movement and one of the foremost American artists of this century. His development in the late 1950s and early 1960s of large scale, abstract, constructed and painted sculpture, had an enormous influence on subsequent art. Wagon II has been on loan since 1996 to the Tate Gallery where it has been displayed alongside other works lent by Smith’s daughters. It is the second work to enter the Tate Collection where it joins Cubi XIX acquired in 1964. Wagon II is currently on show as part of New Displays 1999.

Smith studied art at Ohio University in 1924-5 and then worked on the assembly line in a Studebaker Factory. In 1926 he moved to New York where he took courses at the Art Students League. Initially a painter, he took up sculpture in 1933 inspired by the welded sculptures of Julio Gonzalez and Pablo Picasso. In 1940 he left the city of New York to settle upstate at Bolton Landing in the Adirondack mountains. He was the subject of a major retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1966, shortly after his untimely death in a road accident.

David Smith worked in Voltri, Italy, in 1962 as a participant in the Spoleto Festival. Invited to produce one or two works, he created the twenty-eight sculptures, which came to be known as the Voltri series. They were constructed from elements found in the abandoned factory buildings that he was allocated as a studio by the festival organisers. A small group of these sculptures incorporated wheels. Like these, Wagon II, made at Bolton Landing in 1964, is a wheeled sculpture, but with a forged vertical figure. This monumental work brings together Smith’s use of forging, welding, fabricating and the incorporation of found objects in a magnificent composition which suggests associations with ancient Greek chariots as well as Giacometti’s Chariot of 1950. It is also redolent of the history of American settlers driving west in the nineteenth century.

The American Fund was established in 1988 with an anonymous gift. Income from this endowment and subsequent donations have assisted the Tate in acquiring a number of important works by American artists.

Nicolas Serota, Director of the Tate Gallery said today:

In recent years the Tate Gallery has been building on the strengths of its collection of twentieth-century sculpture. Wagon II, purchased in anticipation of the opening of the Tate Gallery of Modern Art in May 2000, is one of the most important works to enter the Tate Collection in the last decade. I am particularly grateful to the American Fund for the Tate Gallery and National Art Collections Fund for making this possible.