Tate Modern Exhibition

David Smith: Sculptures

David Smith The Forest 1952

David SmithThe Forest 1952

© Estate of David Smith/DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2006

David Smith The Forest 1952

David Smith The Forest 1952

Widely regarded as the greatest American sculptor of his generation, David Smith (1906–1965) created some of the most memorable works of the twentieth century. Characterised by the use of industrial materials, especially welded iron and steel, and the exploration of an open, linear structure, his work revolutionised the art of sculpture in the United States and beyond.

Smith grew up in Indiana, the son of an engineer, and from an early age was enthralled by trains and railroads. Aged 19 he worked as a welder and riveter in a car factory, developing a deep respect for iron and steel. His work captures the spirit of America’s transition from a rural and agricultural society to an urban and industrial one.

As this new age of mechanisation took hold, Smith believed that artists should also embrace industrial materials and techniques. Discussing steel as a medium, he said:

What it can do in arriving at form economically, no other material can do. The metal itself possesses little art history. What associations it possesses are those of this century: power, structure, movement, progress, suspension, destruction and brutality.

Early in his career, Smith was influenced by the work of European sculptors such as Pablo Picasso, Julio González and Alberto Giacometti, assimilating some of their techniques into American sculpture for the first time. By the early 1950s he had developed his own unique vision, which he pursued for nearly 15 years. He was at the height of his creative powers when, in 1965, he died in a car accident, leaving behind an expansive and impressive body of work.

This exhibition, of almost 100 sculptures lent from collections around the world, comprises the largest selection of his work ever shown in Europe. Smith 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. His work was initially inspired by Surrealism and Constructivism but later works demonstrate a myriad of stylistic influences.

This exhibition was curated by Frances Morris, Head of Collections (International Art), Tate Modern with Maeve Polkinhorn, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. It was organised by Tate Modern in collaboration with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and the Centre Georges Pompidou.

Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are © The Estate of David Smth/DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2006

Tate Modern

London SE1 9TG
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1 November 2006 – 11 January 2007

Sponsored by

The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation

The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation

The Henry Moore Foundation

The Henry Moore Foundation

American Patrons of Tate

American Patrons of Tate

Find out more

  • Tate Etc

    Dances with sculpture

    Deborah Jowitt

    The American artist David Smith was best known for his large muscular sculptures –  the product of heavy welding and …
  • Tate Etc

    Making a horse with dad

    Rebecca Smith

    David Smith was best known for his large, muscular sculptures, but also had a vivid interest in contemporary dance. Here …
  • Tate Etc

    My childhood companions

    Candida Smith

    David Smith’s daughter Candida Smith describes her childhood at Bolton Landing, and the artist in his studio
  • Tate Etc

    You can hear the welding. And you can hear the blows of the hammer

    Richard Wentworth

    Richard Wentworth saw David Smith’s Wagon II in Smith’s outdoor studio in New York in the 1970s. Here he takes …