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Voltri XVII
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Voltri XVII
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Voltri XVII

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NY, US
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About the item

``I never made so much – so good – so easy in such condensed time as in my 30 day Italian phase.’’ David Smith in a November 12, 1962 letter to David Sylvester\nSmith’s epic sojourn in Voltri, Italy in May and June 1962 was an artistic paradise, inspiring him to create a legendary body of work in a flurry of inventive activity. In roughly thirty days, Smith produced twenty-seven sculptures including Voltri XVII – an unprecedented pace for any artist working in welded metal. A happy confluence of working conditions, available materials and richly evocative cultural atmosphere allowed Smith to achieve one of his greatest series of works at a critical moment in his career. The Voltri series would have a profound influence on the sculptor’s aesthetic philosophy and on the masterworks he created in the final years before his untimely death in 1965. In the catalogue for the 1969 retrospective of Smith’s work, Edward Fry justifiably summed up the period in Voltri as ``so prolific an outpouring of monumental sculpture …without precedent in the history of modern art.’’ (Exh. Cat., David Smith, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1969, p. 142).\nThe occasion of Smith’s trip to Voltri was the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, a yearly arts celebration begun in 1958 by the Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti.  In 1962, fifty sculptors were invited to exhibit one or two works in the streets and plazas of the picturesque Italian hill town for Sculptures in the City. Yet, the penultimate event of the 1962 festival was Smith’s magnificent Voltri series, not only for the fascinating narrative of their creation and the drama of their installation but for the artist’s ambitious variety of invention.\nProfessor Giovanni Carandente, one of Italy’s foremost art historians, was the curator for Sculptures in the City, and worked closely with Smith from the genesis to the installation of the Voltri series and became a close friend of the artist. The sponsor of the show was Italsider of Genoa, a smelting and steel conglomerate that opened their abandoned steel works in Voltri to the artist and hosted him with all expenses paid at a five star hotel in Genoa.\nIn a December 1962 letter to David Sylvester, the art critic of the London Sunday Times, Smith composed notes published later as ``Report on Voltri’’ in Garnett McCoy’s collection of Smith’s writings. Smith wrote appreciatively of the generosity of his hosts, Italsider, but Smith’s true joy was the discovery of the richness of the material made available to him in the factories abandoned only a few months before. ``Ilva, in Voltri,…was a complex of some five factories set in a narrow valley, based by a small stream, once making springs, trucks, parts for flatcars, bolts, spikes, balls, many things for forging. It had been consumed by the automation of Italsider at Cornegliano... Everything was supplied: I took nothing but my safety shoes and glasses.’’ (David Smith, ed. by Garnett McCoy, New York, 1973, pp.156-157)  Smith, who worked at a Studebaker car factory in 1925 and established a studio at the Terminal Iron Works in Brooklyn in 1933, had long found industrial detritus hauntingly evocative as the symbols of a once-proud modernism now superseded by a newer generation of machinery.\nSmith originally planned to work with stainless steel, but he happily altered course when he found himself immersed in found objects that he perceived as romantic. Smith’s artistic method was soon inspired by the process of assemblage and hands-on manipulation of materials and tools. The artist sketched ideas with white chalk directly on the floor. He also used a massive layout table to assemble the shapes for the five moderately sized sculptures created after Voltri XXII. Gauges and calipers from the blacksmith shops were used to measure out shapes and larger pieces were hoisted and dragged into formations on the factory floors. From large wheeled carriages to tools hand-forged in the blacksmith shop – fragments and scraps were encorporated into the Voltri pieces.  In the case of Voltri XVII, the skeleton of a smelting furnace comprises the `torso’ of this ``personage’’ while the top of a kiln represents the ``head’’.  What Smith did not use in Italy, he shipped back to Bolton Landing, continuing throughout late 1962 and 1963 to use the materials in his Voltri-Bolton and Voltron series.\nBy far, the majority of the Voltris, including Voltri XVII, were inspired by fragments of rolled metal which Smith dubbed ``chopped clouds’’. In ``Report on Voltri’’, Smith wrote ``when a billet rolls out to a sheet no two ends are the same, as in the edge of clouds. There is great wonder and a beauty of natural growth in these variations. ..I have never before seen or possessed chopped-iron cloud ends. …In the mountains, clouds are in my daily unconsciousness, but I’ve never had one before.’’ (McCoy, p. 162)  The combination of figurative elements and abstracted form marks the transformative nature of Voltri XVII, as it is emblematic of the variety of Smith’s aesthetic inspirations and creative vocabulary in the series. The curator E. A. Carmean and others have noted the resemblance of Voltri XVII’s vertical and stratified composition to the linear drapery and erect posture of a Greek kouros, while the horizontal elements and ``cloud’’ forms recall Smith’s abstracted and volumetric landscape sculptures of the 1940s. The figurative form as ``sign’’, as in Smith’s many ``Personage’’ and ``Sentinel’’, is provocatively evident in Voltri XVII, linking both the ancient and the modern with its use of symbolism and signs. The purity of Voltri XVII is as deceptively complex in composition as any work by Giacometti or Picasso that renders figures in rigorous yet evocative terms. Voltri XVII bears a kinship to the structure of Cubism, and also magnificently conveys the spirit of Abstract Expressionism – the planarity of composition, the abstracted allusions, the grandeur of scale, the affinity for material, the improvisation of assemblage and collage, and the intuitive fusion of disparate influences and impulses. The ambition and confidence Smith exhibited with the Voltri series, exemplified with great success in Voltri XVII, was a catalyst for the great burgeoning of major series in Smith’s last years – the Voltri-Boltons, Circles, Wagons, Zigs and Cubis.\nAs Smith and his co-workers completed the Voltri series, the second legendary component of this event took shape. Twenty-four of the twenty-seven works, including Voltri XVII, were placed in the ancient Roman theatre of Spoleto. Smith was delighted with the amphitheatre and its surroundings, now part of the Museo Archeologico, stating ``A more beautiful setting I could not conceive’’ (McCoy, p. 162). Smith had already begun to populate the fields around Bolton Landing with his monumental sculptures, initially as a necessity due to a lack of storage space. Candida Smith later wrote, ``It was after his return from Italy that the fields began to burgeon at an amazing rate. It was as if the creative explosion and the resulting enormous installation in Spoleto ignited a fire that did not burn out’’ (Exh. Cat., The Fields of David Smith, New York, Storm King Art Center, 1999, pp. 30, 32). By the artist’s death in 1965, the fields of Bolton Landing were filled with around eighty sculptures. Smith placed the sculptures in conjunction with each other and with the landscape, relishing the ability of each work to communicate with the other and with its surroundings. The fields of David Smith are now iconic within the canons of American art and modern sculpture, long recognized as an artistic achievement of high importance in their own right.  The installation in the ancient amphitheatre in Spoleto can therefore be rightly judged as profoundly influential in Smith’s celebration of the intimate interrelationship between the artist and his surroundings and the artistic ``conversation’’ of one creation to another.\nSigned, titled and dated 6/62
US
NY, US
US

medium

Steel

creator

David Smith

dimensions

95 x 31 3/8 x 30 3/4 in. 241.3 x 79.7 x 78.1 cm.

exhibition

Spoleto, Sculpture in the City: Festival of Two Worlds, June - September 1962 New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Dallas Museum of Fine Art; Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, David Smith, March - November 1969 (listed in the addendum) Wellesley, MA., Jewett Art Center, Wellesley College, 1970 Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, American Art at Mid-Century: The Subjects of the Artist, June 1978 - January 1979, cat. no. 9, p. 225, illustrated, and pp. 218 & 240, illustrated in installation view in Spoleto Milan, PradaMilanoArte, David Smith in Italy, May - June 1995, p. 67, illustrated and pp. 2-3 & 12-13 illustrated in installation view in Spoleto Valencia, Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno, Centro Julio González; Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, David Smith 1906 - 1965, January - July 1996, p. 238-239, illustrated, and p. 20, 65, 127 & 233, illustrated in installation view in Spoleto Tel Aviv, Museum of Art, David Smith: Paintings, Sculptures and Medals, November 1999 - February 2000, cat. no. 43, p. 156 New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, David Smith: A Centennial, February - September 2006, cat. no. 94, p. 332, illustrated in color and p. 63, illustrated in installation view in Spoleto (Paris, cat. no. 43, p. 204, illustrated in color)

literature

Philadelphia, Institute of Contemporary Art, Voltron, 1964, p. 80 (with incorrect title), illustrated, and pp. 40-41, illustrated in installation view in Spoleto Exh. Cat., Cambridge, Ma., Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, David Smith 1906-1965: a Retrospective Exhibition, 1966, p. 80 Cleve Gray, ed., David Smith by David Smith, New York, 1968, p. 138, illustrated Rosalind E. Krauss, Terminal Iron Works: The Sculpture of David Smith, Cambridge, MA., 1971, p. 154, fig. no. 126, illustrated and pp. 52-53, illustrated in installation view in Spoleto Garnett McCoy, ed., David Smith, New York, 1973, p. 162 Rosalind E. Krauss, Passages in Modern Sculpture, New York, 1977, fig. no. 131a and 131b, p. 175, illustrated Rosalind E. Krauss, The Sculpture of David Smith: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1977, fig. no. 574, p. 104, illustrated Washington Post Sunday Magazine, "American Art at Mid-Century", 1978, p. 46, illustrated Exh. Cat., Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, David Smith, 1982, p. 152, illustrated in installation view in Spoleto Karen Wilkin, David Smith, New York, 1984, fig. no. 117, p. 100, illustrated Kenneth E. Silver, "The Colossus of Bolton Landing", Art in America, October 2006, p. 152, illustrated in color (installation view at the Guggenheim Museum)

provenance

Estate of the artist Lewis Cabot, Boston Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York Acquired by the present owners from the above in October 1974

signedDate

Signed, titled and dated 6/62

consignmentDesignation

Property of the Georges and Lois de Menil Charitable Remainder Trust

creator_nationality_dates

1906-1965





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