David Smith: The White Sculptures

Review

of an Exhibition

by Janine Napierkowski

Published on May 29, 2017

  • Description:

    Before visiting Storm King Art Center, I only knew artist David Smith for his monumental burnished steel sculptures. The exhibition David Smith: The White Sculptures, through November 2017, is a survey of Smith’s lesser known photographs, small scale sculptures, carvings, paintings and figure drawings all around his use of the color white. Storm King is a similar setting visually to Smith’s “sculpture farm” studio in Upstate New York and the curators made an effort to place the works as Smith had on his land. The show consists of six large steel pieces outdoors on the Museum Hill section of the sculpture park and eight various sized indoor galleries in the Museum Building.

    Most of the indoor galleries feature windows that overlook the Museum Hill installation in a wonderful juxtaposition of smaller indoor works with views of larger outdoor works. The indoor galleries feature Smith’s spray painted canvases, figure paintings, photographs by the artist and others of him with his work, and small sculptures featuring natural materials like stone and coral in a pleasing assortment. I most enjoyed the galleries where photographs of Smith’s works in progress and/or installed in places other than Storm King were shown adjacent to the piece itself. This positioning helped me to appreciate the pieces’ histories. The proximity of labels and use of little text was visually pleasing, though sometimes made it difficult to find information about the works, particularly the outdoor pieces where the labels were about twenty feet away from the art and flush with the grass.

    Having been to Storm King in the past, I recall seeing Smith’s more-popular burnished steel sculptures in the location that the white pieces are currently in. This placement, for someone who appreciates history the history between Storm King and Smith’s work, was pleasing. The founder of Storm King, Ralph E. Ogden, acquired thirteen of Smith’s pieces fifty years ago directly from Smith’s studio shortly after Smith died marking the beginning of Storm King’s collection of monumental sculpture. This story of Storm King and Smith was neatly outlined in the exhibition brochure and beginning wall text panels, though it was also easy to appreciate the works from an aesthetic standpoint without knowing the history. The comparison of the softness of the tranquil nature setting, with the hard lines and geometric shapes of sculptures was aesthetically pleasing both indoors and out.

    The exhibition David Smith: The White Sculptures provided a pleasant visitor experience, however, the overall experience of Storm King on a holiday weekend was less than pleasant. The art center was quite crowded, making parking difficult and slow as there is only one entrance. There seemed to be extra security on hand in anticipation of the crowds, though they were from an outside company and did not seem to know where anything was. The bathroom was messy, the docents few, the café cart unmanned and the rude hipsters prevalent. For me the pleasantness of the Smith show did not outweigh the sourness of the overall experience, though I would recommend going to see the exhibition on a quieter day.

Latest Comments (1)

good review

by Kathleen Mclean - May 30, 2017

I can just imagine, through your description of the exhibition, how delightful it must be to be able to see David Smith’s interior works and large-scale exterior works together through the windows. And your installation shots also support that aesthetic feeling. Isn’t it so curious how seemingly unimportant elements such as messy bathrooms and difficult parking can interfere with your experience? It would be great to hear from someone who was there on a quiet day.

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