David Smith was unquestionably one of the most influential and innovative American sculptors of the twentieth century. Born in Decatur, Indiana, in 1906, Smith was trained as a painter at the Art Students League in New York (1926–30) before turning to sculpture in the early 1930s. His career as a sculptor may be divided into three phases. In the beginning he created welded metal constructions into which he often incorporated industrial objects. In his second phase, during the 1940s and 1950s, Smith executed personal, landscape-inspired sculptures characterized by a delicate linear quality, reminiscent of drawing in metal and similar in feel to contemporary painting. He was a great friend of the Abstract Expressionist painters, including Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell. In the final phase of his development, begun at the end of the 1950s, his work became monumental in size and its elements were reduced to overlapping geometric plates of highly polished steel. Just as the industrial objects of his early work prefigured later sculpture, so these reductive, geometric, massive pieces of the 1960s may be said to prefigure the minimal "primary structures" produced by other artists later in that decade.
"Becca," executed in 1965 and named after one of the sculptor's two daughters, is a fine example of Smith's late work. Like almost all his sculpture, this piece is two-dimensional in orientation, intended to be seen from the front. Although huge in scale and consisting of only a few simple geometric elements, "Becca" is marked by grace and energy. The diagonal elements at the top of the piece give the work a joyous lift and buoyancy, and the burnished scribbles resembling brushstrokes that cover the entire work are at once expressive and playful.
Inscription: Signed, dated, and inscribed (on base): David Smith April 30 1965 BECCA
the artist, Bennington, Vt. (until d. 1965; his estate, New York, 1965–72; sold through Marlborough Gallery, New York to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940–1970," October 18, 1969–February 1, 1970, no. 376 (lent by the estate of David Smith).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Tribute to a Curator: Robert Beverly Hale," November 16, 1978–March 4, 1979, unnum. checklist.
Mountainville, N. Y. Storm King Art Center. "20th Century Sculpture: Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," May 18–October 31, 1984, unnum. brochure.
Mountainville, N. Y. Storm King Arts Center. "Fields of David Smith," May 17–November 15, 1999, unnumbered cat. (pp. 136–37).
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "David Smith: Cubes and Anarchy," April 3–July 24, 2011, unnumbered cat. (p. 90, fig. 1).
Mahonri Sharp Young. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art Centenary Exhibitions I. The New York School." Apollo 90 (November 1969), p. 432, fig. 12, locates it in the collection of the artist.
Kay Larson. "The Met Goes Modern: Bill Lieberman's Brave New Wing." New York Magazine 19 (December 15, 1986), p. 42.
Barbara Burn, ed. Masterpieces of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, p. 291, ill. p. 289 (color).
Kathleen Howard, ed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. 2nd ed. (1st ed., 1983). New York, 1994, p. 458, no. 46, ill. (color).
Candida N. Smith. The Fields of David Smith. Exh. cat., Storm King Arts Center, Mountainville, N. Y. New York, 1999, p. 24, ill. pp. 136–37.
Carmen Giménez, ed. David Smith: A Centennial. Exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. New York, 2006, p. 86, fig. 59 (color).
The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York, 2012, p. 428, ill. (color).