David Smith: The Art and Life of a Transformational Sculptor

David Smith: The Art and Life of a Transformational Sculptor

by Michael Brenson
David Smith: The Art and Life of a Transformational Sculptor

David Smith: The Art and Life of a Transformational Sculptor

by Michael Brenson


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“An essential account of America’s greatest sculptor . . . [A] magnum opus.” —Marjorie Perloff, The Times Literary Supplement

The landmark biography of the inscrutable and brilliant David Smith, the greatest American sculptor of the twentieth century.

David Smith, a pioneer of Abstract Expressionism, did more than any other sculptor of his era to bring the plastic arts to the forefront of the American scene. Central to his project of reimagining sculptural experience was challenging the stability of any identity or position—Smith sought out the unbounded, unbalanced, and unexpected, creating works of art that seem to undergo radical shifts as the spectator moves from one point of view to another. So groundbreaking and prolific were his contributions to American art that by the time Smith was just forty years old, Clement Greenberg was already calling him “the greatest sculptor this country has produced.”

Michael Brenson’s David Smith: The Art and Life of a Transformational Sculptor is the first biography of this epochal figure. It follows Smith from his upbringing in the Midwest, to his heady early years in Manhattan, to his decision to establish a permanent studio in Bolton Landing in upstate New York, where he would create many of his most significant works—among them the Cubis, Tanktotems, and Zigs. It explores his at times tempestuous personal life, marked by marriages, divorces, and fallings-out as well as by deep friendships with fellow artists like Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Motherwell. His wife Jean Freas described him as “salty and bombastic, jumbo and featherlight, thin-skinned and Mack Truck. And many more things.” This enormous, contradictory vitality was true of his work as well. He was a bricoleur, a master welder, a painter, a photographer, and a writer, and he entranced critics and attracted admirers wherever he showed his work. With this book, Brenson has contextualized Smith for a new generation and confirmed his singular place in the history of American art.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374281465
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 10/04/2022
Pages: 864
Sales rank: 527,801
Product dimensions: 9.10(w) x 6.40(h) x 1.80(d)

About the Author

Michael Brenson is a former member of the sculpture faculty at Bard College’s Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts and is the author of Visionaries and Outcasts: The NEA, Congress, and the Place of the Visual Artist in America. He holds a doctorate in art history from Johns Hopkins University and was an art critic for The New York Times. He is a Getty Scholar, Guggenheim Fellow, and Clark Fellow, and he is currently the artistic director of the Jonathan and Barbara Silver Foundation. He lives in Accord, New York.

Table of Contents

Author's Note xi

Introduction 3

1 Roots 11

2 Growing Up 23

3 Paulding 31

4 Transitions 39

5 A New Life 52

6 Deeper Bonds 62

7 Bolton Landing 74

8 John Graham 83

9 The Virgin Islands 93

10 Entering the 1930s 103

11 Mounting 111

12 Welding 117

13 Terminal Iron Works 125

14 Radical Decision 137

15 Paris 144

16 Greece 154

17 Back in the Swing 169

18 In the Mix 176

19 Showing 184

20 Fractures 193

21 Leaving the City 202

22 Adjusting 210

23 Medals for Dishonor 218

24 Life on the Farm 231

25 What to Do 239

26 Welding for War 246

27 To Begin Again 262

28 Outbursts 273

29 Retrospective 284

30 Building 290

31 Creation Myths 296

32 The House 307

33 Teaching 319

34 Jean Freas 325

35 The End of an Era 330

36 A New Landscape 350

37 Embattled Freedom 363

38 Arkansas 378

39 Life Change 389

40 Totems 397

41 Rebecca 405

42 Bloomington 412

43 Forgings 420

44 Candida 428

45 Down and Up 437

46 An Untimely Death 446

47 Visits 458

48 MoMA Show 467

49 Moving Out 478

50 New York City 489

51 The Diner 498

52 Battles 505

53 A Golden Month 517

54 Birthday Party 526

55 Unleashed 535

56 The Carnegie 546

57 An Invitation 556

58 Voltri 563

59 Circles 580

60 New Prominence 590

61 A Troubled Summer 600

62 Bennington 607

63 Bolton Landing Girls 615

64 Light 624

65 ICA 633

66 Bennington Pottery 639

67 Fear 648

68 Success 655

69 Girl Sculptures 664

70 Help 675

71 A National Honor 685

72 May 695

Afterword 711

Notes 723

Acknowledgments 799

Index 805

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