I don't touch, I touch with the eye—
Rosalind Krauss believes that the body of work produced by David Smith over the past three decades constitutes the most important sculptural achievement of this century. This book characterizes his work in a way that will make the reader see it on the grounds of its own intense originality. Several arguments are developed simultaneously in the text: an historical description of Smith's career which shows how, from the beginning, his art departed from the conventional concepts and criticized the essential conservatism of modern sculpture—whether the welded work of Picasso and Gonzalez or the constructivism of Gabo or the surrealism of Giacometti; an explicit analysis of a few of Smith's greatest works indicating that his stylistic ambitions were consistent throughout his career; and an iconographic explanation of the nature of Smith's imagery (the cannon, the totem, the sacrifice) as he insistently repeated it. Documentary evidence garnered from the sculptor's archive of sketchbooks and personal records supports this last argument.
Dr. Krauss tracks the content of Smith's style back through the labyrinth of his development and examines the formal alternatives he found to 20th century sculpture—indicating that it was his ambition to completely restructure the relationship between the viewer and the single work of art. The book's basic supposition is that, by a variety of means, David Smith made sculpture that would defeat the viewer's attempt to possess it, either physically or intellectually; he created a sculptural language that arrogantly refuted possession, by touch or by theory of style. Indeed, the author asserts that a real understanding of Smith's sculpture will show that he did not, as his critics have said, predicate his work on a transformation of European art styles, or on characteristics of American abstract painting. His was a revolt from the historical community of ideas, from the concept of a volumetric core and a strict interpretation of media.
The book acknowledges the man behind his self-created myth of vulcan, the welder-hero, to see how and at what level Smith's formal convictions intersected private sources of feeling. It covers his work from the first private, highly subjective pieces which lacked an organizing spine, to the large public sculptures which were formalized in related series (the Tanktotems, Zigs, and huge stainless steel cubes, discs, cylinders and bar that made up the Cubis).
David Smith's work speaks for itself. Nearly 150 halftones complement Dr. Kreuss' compelling text: photographs of Smith's sculpture taken by the artist, illustrations of works that influenced him, and drawings from the Smith Archive.
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