David Smith (1906-1965)
incised with the artist's signature, inscription and date 'David Smith 2/10/53 Arkansas' (on the base)
welded steel
28 x 8 ¾ x 6 7/8 in. (71.1 x 22.2 x 17.5 cm.)
Executed in 1953.
Clement Greenberg, New York, acquired directly from the artist, 1963
Anon. sale; Christie, Manson & Woods, New York, 16 May 1980, lot 25
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
C. Greenberg, "A Famous Art Critic’s Collection," Vogue, no. 2, 15 January 1964, pp. 93 and 95 (installation view illustrated).
David Smith 1906-1965: A Retrospective Exhibition, exh. cat., Cambridge, Fogg Art Museum, 1966, p. 73, no. 231.
R. Krauss, The Sculpture of David Smith: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York and London, 1977, p. 59, no. 286 (illustrated).
David Smith: Photographs 1931–1965, exh. cat., New York, Matthew Marks Gallery, 1998, p. 78, no. 69 (installation view illustrated).
David Smith Invents, exh. cat., Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection, 2011, p. 67 (installation view illustrated).
S. Hamill, David Smith: Works, Writings, Interview, Barcelona, 2011, p. 120.
David Smith: The White Sculptures, exh. cat., Mountainville, Storm King Art Center, 2017, p. 104, no. 1 (installation view illustrated).
New York, Willard Gallery, David Smith, January 1954, no. 1.
Mountainville, New York, Storm King Art Center, David Smith Exhibition, May-October 1976, p. 15 (listed with incorrect title).

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Rachael White
Rachael White

Lot Essay

David Smith’s 1953 sculpture, Bicycle, exemplifies the artist’s proclivity for constructing visual abstractions in sculptural forms. In this work, Smith manipulates steel in a painterly manner, alluding to Picasso’s Cubist figurations. A pioneer in Post-War American sculpture, Smith is known for creating artifacts of speed and motion. Bicycle highlights Smith’s imprint on art history, adapting sculpture to create the three-dimensional forms equivalent of Modernist paintings from the time.
The title of the piece almost certainly refers to Picasso’s 1943 sculpture, Head of a Bull, which combined the seat and handle-bars of a bicycle to fabricate an animal head and horns. In Smith’s sculpture, the arms and torso of the figure recapitulate Picasso’s original conception. However, through the use of Smith’s trademark welded steel, the artist places his own stamp on the piece, showcasing his mastery as a self-taught sculptor. Smith saw visual clarity in Picasso’s work, using his skills as a fabricator to apply European style to his exploration of American themes.
Made of welded steel, Bicycle highlights how materials are an integral part to Smith’s oeuvre. This particular piece has a profoundly vertical nature with a linear mode of representation that eschews volumetric form to break with traditionally round sculpture. Though grounded by its steel pedestal, Bicycle leans into its linear nature. The horns of the figure emphasize the linear quality that was central to Modernist works, adding height and lightness despite the heaviness of the work’s material.
Through steel, Smith explored Cubist shapes, giving new vernacular to the sculptural medium. Originally trained as a painter, the artist discovered sculpture in the summer of 1925 when he worked as a welder in his home state of Indiana. By arranging, manipulating, and welding steel parts together, Smith worked directly with his materials from the beginning to create a stream-of-consciousness working style that resembled painting. As Smith expressed, "Steel is so beautiful, because of all the movement associated with it, its strength and functions" (D. Smith quoted in G. Cleve, ed., David Smith by David Smith, New York, 1968, p. 4). In using steel as a medium through which he could realize his inspiration from paintings, Smith was able to create works of power, depth, and lasting significance.
Smith was first introduced to Picasso’s work in France while he was still in art school. Though he could not read French, he studied pictures in art magazines, which featured Picasso’s works. He said, “I just learned from the pictures, just the same as I were a child in a certain sense. I learned the world from seeing before I ever learned the world from words” (D. Smith quoted in D. Sylvester, Interviews with American Artists, New Haven, 2001, p. 8). Smith was particularly inspired by the way Picasso was able to reduce and pare down his forms in a way that added meaning.
Bicycle was executed in 1953, which marked one of the more fruitful and inventive years of Smith’s career. After receiving the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 1950, he underwent a restless exploration to find a new expressive language that bridged figuration and abstraction. Bicycle exemplifies Smith’s foray into transforming American sculpture, imbuing his abstracted forms with an identity that brings Cubist shapes to life in three dimensions.

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