Property from the Collection of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson
One of the tallest sculptures that David Smith ever produced, Five Ciarcs is a tour de force of the artist’s sculptural practice. Standing at almost 13 feet tall, this conference of material, shape and form embodies the artist’s desire to create dramatic forms in space. Specifically designed to be placed in, and work in concert with, the landscape, the artist emphasized the voids and empty spaces within the body of the work. This introduced the landscape as an equal and important element of the work, and when viewed through these voids both sculpture and landscape become one. Executed just two years before the artist’s sudden death in 1965, and held in the same esteemed private collection since it was acquired from his estate, Five Ciarcs stands as a towering example of the artist’s unique body of work.
Executed on June 3rd 1963 at the artist’s studio in Bolton Landing, New York, Five Ciarcs is a dramatic arrangement of striking shapes and forms. A series of tall, slender stainless steel elements reach up towards the sky, their delicate proportions diminishing the higher the eye travels. In turn, this armature supports a series of more substantial geometric shapes—circles, rectangles and squares (and even circles within squares) constructed out of burnished stainless steel. The surface of these metal planes is as important to Smith’s overall composition as the shape. In addition to aligning it firmly within the Abstract Expressionist tradition, the gestural sweepings marks applied by the artist allows their appearance to constantly shift depending on the prevailing weather. “Smith burnished his surfaces with continuously swirling linear patterns overlaid in delicate layers,” writes Valerie Fletcher, “which become visible only in certain light conditions: on an overcast day, some appear as gray curves, while other arcs emerge to shine with fiery intensity in direct sunlight” (V. Fletcher, “Blaze and Power. David Smith’s Five Ciarcs,” in N. Benezra, Celebrating Modern Art: The Anderson Collection, exh. cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2000, p. 261).
While earlier in his career Smith worked almost exclusively with found metal forms, by the time he executed Five Ciarcs, the elements were acquired from a local foundry and taken to Bolton’s Landing, where he assembled them to arrive at the desired combination of solid forms and voids (V. Fletcher, ibid.). The artist always maintained that his compositional style was more improvisational than inspirational as he would arrange the metal pieces directly on the floor of his studio, constantly shifting their position until he reached an arrangement his was happy with. “When I begin, I am not always sure how it is going to end” the artist said. “In a way, it has a relationship to the work before…it often holds a promise or a gesture towards the one to follow. I do no often follow its path from a previously conceived drawing. If I have a strong feeling about its start, I do not need to know its end, the battle for solution is the most important” (D. Smith, quoted in V. Fletcher, ibid., p. 259).
Executed in 1963, Five Ciarcs does indeed have a formal relationship to the tall, circular forms of the Voltri and Volton series, and the more angular Cubi works that the artist was producing in the early 1960s. They also have a strong connection to even earlier works by artists of the European avant-garde. As a young artist in the 1920s, Smith was influenced by Cubism, De Stijl, Russian Constructivism and the German Bauhaus, artists who were promoting geometric shapes as a new form of visual language. He also adapted the organic forms and improvisational methods of Surrealist artists such as Yves Tanguy to develop his own aesthetic. Smith, who began his artistic career as a painter, composed his own works as a painter would, relying on frontal views, planar shapes and surface color.
From the outset, Smith conceived his sculptures as works of art that should be placed outdoors, embracing the landscape and interacting with its environment. The voids that are a central part of his work are deliberate and important elements of the composition allowing the landscape to be visible in the body of the work, and in the process allowing it to become part of the sculpture. “Works such as Five Ciarcs integrates open spaces as active components with solid elements, and the arrangements of forms has a linear, learned from [Julio] González. The circles express the artist’s appreciation of that primary form as having cultural and cosmic connotations: “from the first wheel of man, to wheels on Indian stone temples… to all the suns and poetic imagery of movement” (V. Fletcher, ibid, p. 260).
Smith himself described his artistic intentions thus, to create “A structure that can face the sun and hold its own against the blaze and power” (D. Smith, quoted in V. Fletcher, ibid, p. 261) and in many ways Five Ciarcs refuses to be confined to the limitations of a single medium. The work is at once sculpture, drawing, painting, collage, and industrial welding, and perhaps, in being all of those things, it is also none of them: as Modernist curator and critic Karen Wilkin eloquently wrote of Smith, “It’s arguable that he was never an abstract sculptor at all, but instead, an inspired translator of perceptions into new, self-sufficient, surprising objects” (K. Wilkin, “David Smith: A Centennial,” The Brooklyn Rail, April 2006, n.p. [accessed online]).
Property from the Collection of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson
, titled and dated 'David Smith June 3 1963 5th Ciarcs' (on the base)
David Smith (1906-1965)
Glens Falls, Hyde Collection, David Smith, June-July 1964.
San Francisco Museum of Art, Focus on Collectors, September-October 1969.
Stanford Art Gallery and Museum, on loan, 1969.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Celebrating Modern Art: The Anderson Collection, October 2000-January 2001, pp. 12, 67, 252, 259-261 and 387, no. 279, pl. 8, figs. 71 and 74 (illustrated in color).
D. Budnik and U. Mulas, "A Personal Portfolio," Art in America, vol. 54, no. 1, January-February 1966, p. 37 (illustrated).
David Smith 1906-1965. A retrospective exhibition, exh. cat., Cambridge, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, 1966, p. 82, no. 517.
A. Frankenstein, "A Look at the New Art Shows," San Francisco Chronicle, 12 October 1969, p. 38.
R. E. Krauss, The Sculpture of David Smith: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1977, p. 110, fig. 614 (illustrated).
David Smith: Painter, Sculptor, Draftsman, exh. cat., Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 1982, p. 18.
David Smith in Italy, exh. cat., Milan, PradaMilanoarte, 1995, p. 27 (illustrated).
C. Smith et al., The Fields of David Smith, New York, 1999, pp. 2 and 137 (illustrated).
R. Bammer, "Thoroughly Modern Milieu," The Vacaville Reporter, 6 October 2000, p. 12D.
A. Potts, The Sculptural Imagination: Figurative, Modernist, Minimalist, New Haven, 2000, p. 172 (illustrated).
P. Rowlands, "Double Feature," Art News, vol. 99, no. 10, November 2000, p. 179.
David Smith: The White Sculptures, exh. cat., New Windsor, Storm King Art Center, 2017, p. 87 (illustrated).
Estate of the artist
Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1968