Australia

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David Smith

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Australia

David Smith. Australia. 1951. Painted steel on cinder block base, 6' 7 1/2" x 8' 11 7/8" x 16 1/8" (202 x 274 x 41 cm), on cinder block base 17 1/2 x 16 3/4 x 15 1/4" (44.5 x 42.5 x 38.7 cm). Gift of William Rubin

Audio Program excerpt

Abstract Expressonist New York: The Big Picture

October 3, 2010–April 25, 2011

Curator, Ann Temkin: Australia is a beautiful example of what we might call all–over sculpture. Although all over is usually a term that we associate with painting. But when you look at this sculpture what you realize is that the lines and the action, in a sense, is all reserved for the outer perimeters of his form and the interior of his form is what’s relatively empty. In fact, Smith makes your eye travel from side to side, from top to bottom, around every edge to realize here’s where the excitement really takes off. Not at all unlike a painting by Jackson Pollock.

"I do not recognize the limits of where painting ends and sculpture begins," Smith once said, just a year, in fact, before realizing this particular work. And it's a useful quote to have in mind as you look closely at this sculpture that is as much a drawing in space as any sort of solid form.

Smith used thin rods and plates of steel manipulated and welded together to create a work that's often been identified as a kangaroo, given this sense of leaping vitality that Smith magically manages to convey in such an inert material as steel.

Director, Glenn Lowry: The artist, speaking in 1951:

David Smith: No man can ever make an abstract sculpture, an abstract painting in the sense that no man can make what he hasn't seen in nature. He makes certain organizations, which might be different than seen in nature, but I doubt it very much.

Audio Program excerpt

MoMA Audio: Collection

2008

Curator, Anne Umland: David Smith made his first welded iron work in 1934 and continued to pursue open-ended forms of sculpture like the one that we're looking at here, until his early death in 1965.

"I do not recognize the limits of where painting ends and sculpture begins," Smith once said, just a year, in fact, before realizing this particular work. And it's a useful quote to have in mind as you begin to look closely at this sculpture that is as much a drawing in space as any sort of solid form. It's a sculpture whose primary forms are understandable best when you, the viewer, position yourself squarely on one side or the other.

Smith used thin rods and plates of steel manipulated and welded together to create a work that's often been identified as a kangaroo, given this sense of leaping vitality that Smith magically manages to convey in such an inert material as steel. It really is an exercise in representing tension, on capturing in fixed, finite forms a sense of shapes on the brink of movement.

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 198

In Australia Smith uses thin rods and plates of steel, simultaneously delicate and strong, to draw in space. Sculpture has traditionally gained power from solidity and mass, but Australia is linear, a skeleton. The Constructivists were the first to explore this kind of penetration of sculpture by empty space. Smith learned about it from photographs of the welded sculpture of Pablo Picasso: he had begun his career as a painter, but he knew how to weld (he had worked as a riveter in the automobile industry) and Picasso's works liberated him to start working in steel.

Like a painting or drawing, Australia must be seen frontally if its form is to be grasped. It has been identified as an abstraction of a kangaroo, and its lines have that animal's leaping vitality; but it is an essay in tension, balance, and shape more than it is any kind of representation. In calling the work Australia, Smith may have had in mind the passages on that country in James Joyce's novel Finnegans Wake. He may also have been thinking of the magazine illustration of aboriginal Australian cave drawings that the critic Clement Greenberg sent him in September of 1950, with the note, "The one of the warrior reminds me particularly of some of your sculpture."