US welder who became the father of steel sculpture wins Tate's acclaim

When the American artist David Smith began welding his vast works from steel, no one even considered them sculpture. But 100 years after he was born in the artistically unpromising environment of the Midwest, he is being honoured with an exhibition of his work at Tate Modern in London.

The show includes more than 70 works, starting with early experiments in the 1930s through to sculpture made not long before he was fatally injured in a car crash in 1965.

Frances Morris, its curator, said Smith was an enormously innovative sculptor, notably in his use of industrial materials, his liberation of sculpture from the plinth and his humanist subject matter. But his work has been less well known in Britain up to now than the Abstract Expressionist painters Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning who were his contemporaries.

"I hope he will be the subject of a great retrieval. Before David Smith started making welded steel sculpture, there were no more than 50 welded sculptures in the world. He was in at the beginning of a tradition," Morris said. "But like a number of really distinctive individuals in the 20th century, he's not a member of a club."

One of his clear legatees was the great British sculptor in metal, Sir Anthony Caro, 82, who said yesterday that Smith, whom he knew well, had meant a great deal to him. "His work is a revelation. He advanced the tradition of steel sculpture and open sculpture by an enormous amount."

Pablo Picasso and Julio Gonzalez were early pioneers of modern sculpture, he said. "But David took it a giant step forward in the ambition and directness of his pieces. He was revolutionary. People didn't think he was a sculptor but because he was an American and able to be free of that heavy tradition of Europe, he could just make these things willy-nilly without worrying about tradition."

There was an exhibition of his work at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 1987. "But look how long it has taken for him to be accepted for a major show at the Tate - a very long time."

David Smith was born in Indiana in 1906, the son of a telephone engineer, and decided at the age of four he wanted to be an artist. Jean Freas, his widow, who is in Britain for the exhibition with their daughters, Rebecca and Candida, said: "He knew that's what he wanted to do and that was very strange in his background." He learnt welding not as a practical job skill but because he wanted to use it in his work. "But he never dreamt that he would pioneer a huge movement in American art. There was no such thing as American art then," she said.

His work very much reflected him. "When you look at his work, you know he's a real he-man, he was no limp-wrist. He was a giant - about 6ft 2in - with big hands. When he came into a room, he really filled the room."

Candida Smith, who handles her father's estate, said that what was important about the exhibition was it showed work from his entire career. "David Smith is known for certain works in England like the Wagon and the great Tate Cubis but what I hope this shows is the breadth of his career," she said.

She remembers him as "a tremendous life force. He loved music and dancing and food. He really embraced life. He loved play and laughter."

David Smith, supported by the Horace W Goldsmith Foundation, the Henry Moore Foundation and the American Patrons of Tate, opens today and runs until 21 January. Admission £7

News
i100
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Financial Accountants, Cardiff, £250 p/day

£180 - £250 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Financial Accountants - Key Banking...

Regulatory Reporting-MI-Bank-Cardiff-£300/day

£200 - £500 per day + competitive: Orgtel: I am currently working on a large p...

Recruitment Consultant - Bristol - Computer Futures - £18-25k

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures are currently...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Real Staffing - Leeds - £18k+

£18000 - £27000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Sales - Trainee Recruitment Co...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices