Cubism plus blowtorch welding — in the early 20th century this equation delivered the biggest transformation in metal sculpture since the 5th century BC.
Laszlo Moholy Nagy, Nickel Construction, 1921. Digital Image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence. © Hattula Moholy-Nagy/DACS 2015.
The discovery that a mixture of oxygen and acetylene raised the temperature of a welding flame to 3500ºC made it possible to fuse metal components of any size. The blowtorch allowed welding to be done on-site, while World War I armaments production made the process routine.
David Smith (1906-1965), Cubi XIX, 1964. Photo © Tate, London 2015. © Estate of David Smith/DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2015.
Intrigued by Picasso’s cardboard constructions, the Spanish painter and blacksmith Julio González transferred this new sculptural idiom into welded metal. The technique also served the avant-garde conviction that art should reflect the machine age, as in László Moholy-Nagy’s elegant Nickel Construction .
Roxy Paine, Maelstrom, 2009. Stainless steel. © Roxy Paine. Courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York
In America David Smith began making welded constructions after encountering González’ work, striking the note for post-war sculptors such as Anthony Caro. More recently, Roxy Paine’s gigantic ‘Dendroids’ recall the ancient application of welding in intricate decorative art.
Main image at top: Julio Gonzalez (1876-1942), Reclining Figure, 1934. Digital Image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence
Explore the full series, The History of Art in 20 Media. For more features, interviews and videos, see our Christie’s Daily homepage