David Smith

‘I belong with painters, in a sense; and all my early friends were painters because we all studied together. And I never conceived of myself as anything other than a painter because my work came right through the raised surface and color and objects applied to the surface’. —– David Smith, 1960


Hauser & Wirth announces an online exhibition featuring the late post-war American artist David Smith (1906- 1965), including six virtual museum loans alongside significant works spanning from 1958 until 1964. ‘David Smith. Sprays’ is curated by the artist’s daughters and co-presidents of the David Smith Estate, Candida and Rebecca Smith, and Dr. Jennifer Field, Executive Director of the David Smith Estate. The pioneering body of work is presented with walkthrough films of the virtual exhibition space created in HWVR.

With thanks to contributing museums: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Harvard Art Museums/ Fogg Museum, Cambridge, MA; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas; The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco/de Young Museum, San Francisco; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

The in-depth digital presentation celebrates Smith’s innovative approach to the newly available medium of aerosol paint and the consequent interplay between colour, form and the drawn image. The Sprays represent a direct and unmediated form of expression that provide a vital counterpoint to Smith’s metal work.

When creating a sculpture, Smith would often place components of the work in progress on white-washed areas of his shop floor, before joining them together. The welding scorched the floor, leaving ‘ghost’ images of the sculpture. Inspired by these incidental patterns, Smith began work on the Sprays, employing any material at hand, from machine parts to tree branches, and even leftovers from his table, which he arranged on paper or canvas before spraying over the composition with industrial enamel paint. When the objects were removed, their silhouettes remained, sometimes with hazy outlines from the diffused paint that seeped beneath the objects’ edges. The Sprays can feature bold forms in complex rhythms against misty backgrounds that have been likened to a celestial expanse. They express the ambiguity between positive and negative space, contrasting layers of effervescent colour with areas of white. Shapes can appear weightless, sometimes clustering together and at other times moving apart amidst the sprayed pigments.

Conceived and developed in Bolton Landing, New York, Smith’s Sprays were as deeply embedded in the landscape and everyday experiences as his sculpture making. The artist’s daughters recall childhood memories from summers they would spend with their father. Candida Smith explains, ‘The Sprays were part of our lives just like the rest of my father’s artwork, it was intermingled with everything we did all day and what he did in the night after we were asleep’. Rebecca Smith continues, ‘From our bedroom my sister and I would hear the particular rattle of his spray cans as he made paintings to jazz records. I see in these works a great sense of what I knew of my father – his love of making and constructing form’.

Smith debuted the large-scale Sprays in New York in Fall 1959. Dr. Field writes about the significance of these works: ‘The Sprays’ imposing heights align them with the monumental scale that had become a defining characteristic of abstract expressionist and colour field painting. The Sprays also connect Smith’s painting practice to a new generation of artists who were engaged with issues having to do with the use of found materials (including mass-produced, or readymade, pigments) and mechanical techniques. Indeed, Smith’s Sprays would have seemed at home in the groundbreaking ‘16 Americans’ exhibition that opened that December at The Museum of Modern Art, and which featured works by Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Rauschenberg, and Frank Stella.’ Since David Smith’s tragic death in 1965, he has continued to inspire contemporary artists. The Sprays reflect Smith’s unique ability to convey a deeply humanist vision through an abstract vocabulary.

The exhibition follows ‘David Smith. Field Work’, held at Hauser & Wirth Somerset in Fall 2019 and ‘David Smith: Sculpture 1932-1965’, a major retrospective at Yorkshire Sculpture Park that ran concurrently and was the principal contribution to the inaugural Yorkshire Sculpture International 2019. The online exhibition precedes a Catalogue Raisonné of David Smith’s work, available in 2021.

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About the artist

One of the foremost artists of the twentieth century and the sculptor most closely linked to the Abstract Expressionist movement, David Smith is known for his use of industrial methods and materials, and the integration of open space into sculpture. Over a…

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Current Exhibitions

Current Exhibitions

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