David Smith

United States of America 1906–1965

David Smith was born on 9 March 1906 in Decatur, Indiana. He moved with his family to Paulding, Ohio, in 1921, and studied at Ohio University between 1924 and 1925. In 1925 he worked in the Studebaker factory in South Bend, Indiana, learning industrial trades. Smith moved to New York in 1926, where he enrolled in evening classes at the Art Students League, becoming a full-time student in 1927. He bought land at Bolton Landing, New York, in 1929, and worked there each summer. This brought him into contact with John Graham, who introduced him to Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, and other artists. Smith began attaching found objects to his paintings but soon progressed to sculpture, making his first works in welded steel in 1932. He visited Europe in 1935. His first solo exhibition was held at the East River Gallery, New York, in 1938.

Smith moved permanently to Bolton Landing in 1940. A retrospective exhibition of his work was held at Willard and Buchholz Galleries, New York, in 1946. He was awarded a scholarship from the Guggenheim Foundation in 1950, renewed in 1951, which enabled him to concentrate exclusively on his sculpture. He began working in series at this time, exploring one idea at a time in a methodical way. His work was included in the group exhibition Douze Peintres et Sculpteurs Americains Contemporains, organised by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, which toured Europe in 1953. He also showed his work in the Venice Biennales of 1954 and 1958. In 1957 he was given a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and a further exhibition was organised in 1961 by the Museum of Modern Art, which toured venues throughout the United States. In 1962 he was invited to Italy for the Festival of Two Worlds at Spoleto, and worked at Voltri to produce a series of works. Smith's work was much exhibited at this time, predominantly in the United States. He died in a car crash near Bennington, Vermont, on 23 May 1965; an exhibition, in progress at the time of his death, was shown at the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, and Washington Gallery of Modern Art in 1966–67 before touring Europe. Further retrospectives have been shown: at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts and Corcoran Gallery, Washington DC, in 1969–70; at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in 1982;[i] and, most recently, at the Guggenheim in 2006.

[i] E.A. Carmean Jr, David Smith, Washington: National Gallery of Art 1982 [NGA work not mentioned or reproduced; National Gallery of Art, Washington, 7 November 1982–24 April 1983]

See more works by this artist in the NGA collection

David Smith 25 planes 1958 © David Smith. VAGA/Copyright Agency Purchased 1978 Learn more