DAVID SMITH (1906-1965)
ProvenanceEstate of David Smith
Hauser & Wirth
ExhibitionHauser & Wirth New York, “David Smith: Origins & Innovations”, New York NY, November 13 – December 23, 2017
David Smith’s paintings from the 1930s rarely come to market, and when Untitled (Billiard Players) surfaced at a Christie’s auction in 2018, it created quite a stir, realizing an impressive price of $1.15 million. Painted around the same time, Untitled shares many similarities with Untitled (Billiard Players). Both paintings affirm Smith’s place among the American artists when ideas and style began to intermingle and coalesce around Picasso’s innovations.
Uniquely positioned in temperament and ability, Smith was a man of considerable ambition whose direct-metal configurations would have much to do with achieving new ideas about abstraction. Yet all along, he insisted he was a painter, not a sculptor who painted.
Paintings by Smith support Henry Moore’s assertion that ‘all the best sculpture I know is both abstract and representational at the same time.’ Surrealism held great sway with both artists, but Untitled has little in common with the phantom dreamscapes or spectral apparitions more associated with Moore’s sensibilities. Instead, Smith’s work recalls Picasso’s whimsical depictions of halcyon days he spent frolicking at the beach with his wife Olga and son Paulo in the summer of 1928. Full of wit and humor, Untitled suggests some of that same lightheartedness. David Smith and his wife, artist Dorothy Dehner, took their first trip to Europe in 1936, and if there is a story worth retelling here, perhaps it is similarly anecdotal. Charming as it is, Untitled encourages musings of an encounter while biking in France with, presumably, a female figure whose hand rests upon David’s shoulder as well as the image of a child or dog held by our protagonist — take your pick.
Dan Budnik, "David Smith with Upmann Cigar, Terminal Iron Works, Bolton Landing, New York," 1962Gift of the artist, in memory of Herman Cherry, to MoMA, New York.
David Smith, "Untitled (Billiard Players)," c. 1936Sold for $1.15m at Christie’s New York in November 2018.
Pablo Picasso, "Baigneuses sur la plage," 1928Musée national Picasso-Paris