David Smith (American, 19061965)
Stainless steel; 113 1/4 x 123 x 30 1/2 in. (287.7 x 312.4 x 77.5 cm)
Purchase, Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (18761967), by exchange, 1972 (1972.127)
© Estate of David Smith/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Becca was made at the height of Smith's career in 1965, the year he died in a car accident. Even though his life was cut short, the artist's output was prodigious and his many innovations were unparalleled; Smith's legacy of influence is unmatched in American sculpture.
Smith came to sculpture through painting, having trained at the Art Students League from 1927 to 1932. Like many of his fellow artists, he then worked in the WPA Federal Art Project. Significant friendshipsand aesthetic affinitieswith John Graham, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, and many of the Abstract Expressionist painters contributed to his development. But skills learned in his youth in Indiana, where he had summer jobs working in a Studebaker car factory, eventually came to the fore in his art making. When he saw magazine illustrations of welded sculpture by Pablo Picasso and Julio González, he himself began welding metal constructions. Smith found a way to bridge seemingly irreconcilable worlds. There is often in the artist's sculptural work a decidedly frontal orientation (almost two-dimensional), and a feel for the calligraphic (series of works from the 1940s and '50s were open "drawings in metal").
Later in his career, Smith would note the overwhelming potency of steel as a medium: "What it can do in arriving at a form economically, no other medium can do. What associations it possesses are those of this century: power, structure, movement, progress, suspension, brutality." During the last fifteen years of his life, Smith's sculpture was characterized by overlapping rectangular plates of highly polished steel. Becca, named after one of Smith's two daughters, is monumental in scale but at the same time buoyant and graceful. Pristine geometric components have been assembled in a massive yet elegant configuration, all compressed into a relatively flat plane. The surface is exuberant, wire brushed in elaborate scribblings resembling brushstrokes. The sense of touch and gesturalism is preeminent on these dazzling, burnished surfaces.