Project Profile: The David Smith Catalogue Raisonné

David Smith in his workshop, Bolton Landing, 1953.  Photograph by the artist.  © The Estate of David Smith/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

David Smith in his workshop, Bolton Landing, 1953. Photograph by the artist. © The Estate of David Smith/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

Artist: David Smith (1906-1965)
Planned Publication Title: David Smith Sculptures: A Catalogue Raisonné
Scope and Years Covered: Although best known for his steel and stainless steel sculptures, Smith also worked in coral, iron, lead, wood, marble, cast aluminum and bronze. The CR will comprise his entire body of sculptural works, created from 1932 to 1965, which includes more than 600 free-standing works, as well as cast silver and bronze relief sculptures and a small group of cast metal jewelry pendants.
Organized and Supported by: The Estate of David Smith (a.k.a. Terminal Iron Works LLC); Candida Smith, Rebecca Smith and Peter Stevens, Executive Director.
Planned Format: To be determined. We would like to publish the CR first as a book, and perhaps later in digital form.
Database: Filemaker Pro
Current CR Project Staff: Susan Cooke, Associate Director, The Estate of David Smith & Catalogue Raisonné Director. Allyn Shepard, Senior Researcher. Tracee Ng, Researcher.

CRSA: Is this project updating or building upon a previously published CR?
Susan Cooke: Yes. Our project is profoundly indebted to Rosalind Krauss’s CR of Smith’s sculpture, published by Garland Publishing, Inc., in 1977, which she originally submitted to Harvard University in 1969 as a component of her dissertation on Smith’s work. The Estate’s CR will re-verify, revise, update and expand the information presented by Krauss and greatly increase the visual documentation of individual works. Smith, with rare exceptions, did not make editions or multiple casts of his sculptures, and The Estate has never authorized posthumous casts of his works. In addition, because he sold or gave away few sculptures during his life and his own records and the inventories Krauss and the Estate completed soon after his death were so thorough, we don’t expect to add significantly to the number of works that comprise this body of his work.

CRSA: Do you have a publisher?
SC: We’ve had some preliminary conversations with digital and web publishers and hope to begin conversations with print publishers later this year. We have largely completed the inventory of Smith’s sculptures, have received CR application forms back from nearly all of the public and private collections we contacted, and have gathered most the data we need to write physical descriptions, and compile exhibition, literature and provenance histories for the individual works.
​We are in the process of defining what the components of the CR–the nature and scope of the individual catalogue entries, the accompanying historical, critical, analytical and biographical essays, the concordances and back matter—and are still gathering or commissioning publication-quality photographs of the works. All of which is to say that publication of the Smith CR–as whatever form it takes as a printed or digital entity—is still several years away.

CRSA: What are some of the Smith CR’s primary resources?
SC: Beginning with the creation of his earliest sculptures, and for the rest of his life, Smith documented his work extensively, in his sketchbooks and in a prodigious body of photographs, many annotated, that he took of individual sculptures and sculpture groups. These original records and images, together with Smith’s writings, lectures and interviews, his personal and business correspondence, clippings files, his library, and, to a much lesser extent, the tools and materials he used to make his sculptures, remain part of The Estate’s collections (microfilm copies of the photographs, sketchbooks and correspondence are also accessible on microfilm at the Archives of American Art).
​We have also relied heavily on the resources of the Archives of American Art, which preserves the correspondence and oral histories donated by Smith’s first wife, Dorothy Dehner, and the papers of several of his dealers and close friends; on the archives of The Museum of Modern Art, which houses much of the documentation gathered by Rosalind Krauss in the 1960s for her David Smith CR; and on many other public and private archives throughout the country. In addition, the Estate owns representative bodies of the artist’s sculptures, drawings, paintings, and prints, which we refer to constantly for information and insight about the esthetic and technical characteristics of his work. Our research also been enriched by the memories and uniquely intimate understanding of Smith’s work possessed by his daughters, Rebecca and Candida, and guided by the eye and expertise of Peter Stevens, Executive Director of the Estate for more than thirty years.

CRSA: What specific challenges do you face in researching DS?
SC: We spend a lot of time trying to answer very practical questions that then lead to interesting methodological and even philosophical discussions: how to standardize The Estate’s (and other owners’) measurements of a sculpture’s height, width and depth; how to define accurately the media and methods Smith used; how to record the physical changes to a work wrought by time or deliberate or unintended acts by the artist or others; how best to illustrate in photographs a work’s three-dimensional materiality and visual multiplicity, and convey the artist’s intention that these be experienced over time and as a function of the viewer’s own movement through space? Some of these questions also bedevil CR authors working with two-dimensional media, but the verbal and graphic conventions for representing sculpture seem less settled and less precise.

CRSA: When examining artworks, what is one thing the Smith project particularly makes sure to note?
SC: Like all CR researchers, we try to examine every work directly and also study them in newly taken high-resolution digital photographs. Looking closely at works, even those we assumed we knew well, has made us more sensitive to the importance of color and surface treatment in every sculpture Smith created. These aspects of his formal and expressive vocabulary have been often overlooked, if only because until fairly recently the images used to illustrate his work in books and catalogues were almost exclusively the artist’s own highly evocative, but rarely detailed or close-up, black and white photographs.
​We also try to take or obtain photographs of all signatures and inscriptions, because these have sometimes been ignored or incompletely or incorrectly recorded, and we also try to document whether the current base is original to the work. We also re-verify the identification of each work’s media and method of fabrication, because the artist’s own descriptions and information provided by subsequent owners (and even The Estate) are not infrequently cursory, contradictory, incomplete, or just plain wrong.

CRSA: What is something you have come across in your research that changed your understanding of the way DS worked?
SC: Smith’s habit of working in series is well known and often determines the conceptual structure of major surveys of his sculpture. By trying to pinpoint the start and completion dates of each individual work, whether or not Smith designated them as part of a series, we’ve been able to document more precisely when and how various series coincide and overlap, and to demonstrate the cross-pollination that occurs among sculpture series and between sculptures and paintings, drawings and photographs. Smith’s work is both tremendously heterogeneous and interconnected by recurring formal and expressive motifs. We hope to devise a visual design and structure for the CR that enables its users to understand the development of Smith works in terms of chronological simultaneity and chronological sequence.

CRSA: Are you preparing additional content beyond artwork, exhibitions, bibliography and chronology?
SC: We would like to quote Smith’s statements and sketchbook notes about particular works as well as summarize the critical commentary on the major sculptures in the individual CR entries. We also feel strongly that it’s important to illustrate most of his sculptures from multiple viewpoints, using recent color photographs and vintage black and white and color images taken by the artist, and also to illustrate related drawings and paintings, as a way of demonstrating his thinking processes and honoring his declaration that he did not “recognize the lines drawn between painting and sculpture aesthetically”.
​We will provide a detailed, illustrated biographical chronology, and we are considering including a number of longer, analytical and historical essays that will address the nature and stature of Smith’s sculptural achievements, his materials and working methods, the relationship between figuration and abstraction in his work, the concept of the sculptural series, and the evolution and significance of the sculpture installations he created on his property at Bolton Landing.

For more information, please contact The Estate of David Smith, 333 Hudson Street, Suite 904, New York, NY 10013. Tel: 212-627-4452. Email: info@davidsmithestate.org.

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