David Smith: Cubes and Anarchy

Nothing makes me happier than when art meets geometry. These sculptures are fantastic. They’re stark and playful at the same time. He’s like Picasso in the form of sculpture. It shouldn’t work but it does and he welds them together intensely. With an electric disc grinder, he polished these strokes and weaves of reflective surfaces in fleeting, chaotic motions.  It’s beautiful.

In short, it’s hard to take the full measure of these sculptures and even harder to make the connection between geometry and labor, cubes and anarchy. For that you’ll have to look to the catalog. Its essays stress Smith’s blue-collar credentials, reminding us that he was the son of an engineer and great-grandson of a blacksmith; that he worked as a telephone lineman, a riveter in a Studebaker automobile factory, and a welder at the American Locomotive Company; that he was a proud union member and remained one, even after his art career had taken off.

“By choice I identify myself with working men and still belong to Local 2054 United Steelworkers of America,” he wrote in 1948. “I belong by craft — yet the subject of aesthetics introduces a breach. I suppose it is because I believe in the future [in] a working man’s society and in that society I hope to find a place.”

“David Smith: Cubes and Anarchy” tries to repair that breach, uniting Smith the artist and Smith the welder. But its efforts are hampered, mostly by a vexing installation but also, a little, by our collective imagination. American manufacturing is in decline and Smith’s sculptures (the “Cubis” in particular) have become billionaires’ trophies. Which is to say, looking at Smith’s art now makes us painfully aware that the “working man’s society” he envisioned has not materialized. (NYT)“David Smith: Cubes and Anarchy” continues through Jan. 8 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue, at 75th Street; (212) 570-3600, whitney.org.

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