David Smith - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, November 14, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    The Artist
    John J. O’Connor Jr., Pittsburg (acquired from the above)
    Private Collection, Bloomsburg (by descent from the above)
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1992

  • Exhibited

    Miami, Museum of Contemporary Art, David Smith: Stop/Action, December 19, 1998 - February 24, 1999, no. 6, pp. 16, 50 (illustrated)
    New York, Freedman Art, Carved, Cast, Crushed, Constructed, March 8 - August 22, 2014

  • Literature

    E. C. Goossen, "David Smith", Arts, vol. 30, no. 6, March 1956, pp. 24-25 (illustrated, p. 25)
    David Smith 1906-1965: A retrospective exhibition, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, 1966, no. 248, p. 74
    Rosalind E. Krauss, The Sculpture of David Smith: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York and London, 1977, no. 302, p. 62 (illustrated, fig. 302)
    Karen Wilkin, "At the Galleries", Hudson Review 67, no. 2, Summer 2014, p. 298

  • Catalogue Essay

    Steel and bronze dynamically fuse in David Smith’s Spectre, 1953, merging into a fantastical creature that seems poised to levitate from its pedestal at any moment. Varying patinas are revealed as one moves around the sculpture – a range that draws attention to the nuances of the material and the presence of the artist’s hand. In its vivid expression of velocity and playful allusions to both industry and nature, this iconic work presents a powerful continuation of Smith’s earlier Spectre series from the mid-1940s that included works such as War Spectre, 1944, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. While those were created in direct response to World War II, the present sculpture and its related Spectre Riding a Headless Horse, 1951-1952, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., demonstrate how Smith in the early 1950s further pushed the theme into more mythical pastures with a heightened abstract idiom and playful allusions to the natural world. Executed in 1953, Spectre was notably acquired directly from the artist by John O’Connor Jr., the former Assistant Director of The Carnegie Institute who frequently visited Smith with the Carnegie’s then-Director Homer Saint-Gaudens, the son of the famous sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

    When Smith created Spectre at the height of the Abstract Expressionist movement, it had been exactly two decades since his decisive shift from painting to sculpture. It was in 1933, having encountered reproductions of the welded sculptures by Pablo Picasso and Julio González, that Smith had begun “drawing in space”. Challenging all convention, Smith utilized industrial material in the form of found-objects – metal scraps, fragments of wheel rims or cogs of discarded motors. Smith’s Spectre series seem like the physical manifestation of Picasso’s Painting (Running Minotaur), 1928 – the distilled lines of Picasso’s human-animal figure, however, radically reimagined in the industrial materials specific to new age. As Smith noted of his Spectre series in 1951, “Possibly steel is so beautiful because of all the movement associated with it, its strength and function. Yet it is also brutal…But in my Spectre series, I speak of these things and it seems most functional in its method of statement” (David Smith, “Notes for Elaine de Kooning”, 1951, in Susan J. Cooke (ed.), David Smith, Collecting Writings, Lectures, and Interviews, Oakland, 2018, p. 129).

    Exemplary of Smith’s interest in openness and expansiveness in the early 1950s, Spectre is situated at a critical juncture in Smith’s formal development of his sculptural idiom. As evidenced in sculptures such as Europa and Agricola XIII from the same year, it speaks of Smith’s focus on making sculptures connected to the theme of drawing in 1953. In Spectre, the sculpture’s wry form is welded from disparate metal elements: a flat, curved metal plane forms the central portion of the body to which are attached several slender metal appendages. Hovering between figuration and abstraction, the resulting sculpture is a vision of pure dynamism and monumental expressivity – one that equals Smith’s large-scale sculptures at the time. Smith would often translate his works’ spatial complexity into gripping, dramatized pictorial images through unexpected cropping, shallow focus, and stark black-and-white contrasts: a photograph of Spectre printed in the 1956 issue of Arts Magazine evidences Smith photographing the sculpture from a low vantage point against a cloudy sky. It is an enthralling image of tension, one that is suggestive of a mythical animal caught mid-stride as it moves through space.

    In its depiction of a primordial creature that appears to be part bird and part horse, Spectre takes a distinct position within Smith’s early 1950s body of work. It sees the artists pursue his fascination with the theme of animals found in the natural world that had previously given rise such works as Jurassic Bird, 1945, and would later resurface again with Raven IV, 1957, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. In 1953, Smith was frequently on the road to give lectures across Arkansas, Oklahoma and New York and spent his summer in Bolton Landing. Spectre appears like the poetic manifestation of Smith’s eloquent notes on nature at the time, in which mysterious animals take center stage: “How little I know – until I see what happened in the night on the snow – the movement of animals their paths, and why – the animals that fly the night birds leave no tracks except on the mind” (David Smith, “How Little I Know”, 1953-1954, in in Susan J. Cooke (ed.), David Smith, Collecting Writings, Lectures, and Interviews, Oakland, 2018, p. 202).



steel and found objects
15 3/4 x 15 1/2 x 5 1/4 in. (40 x 39.4 x 13.3 cm.)
Executed in 1953.

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $471,000

Contact Specialist
John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 14 November 2018