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David Smith (1906-1965)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property from the Collection of Ann Arenberg Gips and Walter F. Gips Jr.
David Smith (1906-1965)

Agricola IV

Details
David Smith (1906-1965)
Agricola IV
incised with artist's signature, title and date 'David Smith IV 1952 AGRICOLA' (on the base)
steel
60 x 32 1/4 x 15 1/2 in. (152.4 x 81.9 x 39.3 cm.)
Executed in 1952.
Provenance
Willard Gallery, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Albert Arenberg, Highland Park, 1955
By descent to the present owner
Literature
H. Cherry, "David Smith," Numero, v. 5, May-June 1953, p. 20 (illustrated).
R. Goldwater, "David Smith shows sculptures of 1952-53 at Kootz gallery," Art News, v. 51, February 1953, p. 54.
S. Preston, "Diverse Moderns: Recent Work by Stevens, David Smith, Lawrence," New York Times, 1 February 1953, p. X8.
Art Institute of Chicago Quarterly, v. XLVIII, no. 3 September 1954 (illustrated on cover).
David Smith 1906-1965. A Retrospective Exhibition, exh. cat., Cambridge, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, 1966, p. 73, no. 215.
R. Krauss, The Sculpture of David Smith: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York and London, 1977, p. 55, no. 268 (illustrated).
E. Fry and M. McClintic, David Smith: Painter, Sculptor, Draftsman, Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 1982, p. 15.
A. Marshall, "A Study of the Surfaces of David Smith's Sculpture," Studies in the History of Art, v. 51, 1995, p. 93.
E. Hermens and J. Townsend, eds., Study and Serendipity: Testimonies on Artists' Practice, London, 2010, p. 137.
Exhibited
New York, Kootz Gallery, David Smith, New Sculpture, January-February 1953, no. 3.
Cincinnati Modern Art Society; Cincinnati Art Museum and Madison, University of Wisconsin, David Smith: Sculpture, Drawings, Graphics, May-August 1954, no. 10 (illustrated).
Art Institute of Chicago, 61st American Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, October-December 1954, no. 138.
Arts Club of Chicago, David Smith: Spray Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, June 1983, no. 53 (illustrated on back cover).
Princeton, Squibb Gallery, Fifty Years of Contemporary Art, October-November 1985, no. 48.
Wellesley College, Davis Museum and Cultural Center, September 2003-March 2012 (on loan).
Special notice

On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

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Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

This work will be included in the forthcoming new Catalogue Raisonné of David Smith Sculptures being prepared by the Estate.


Composed of old farm implements, the extraordinary shapes and forms in David Smith’s monumental Agricola IV ushered in a remarkable new era in the artist’s career. Nearly two decades after he had constructed his first steel sculpture, Smith began his series of seventeen Agricolas in 1951. A striking early example from the following year, Agricola IV—like all of Smith’s best works—functions on numerous levels. Apart from being a dramatic assault on the classic traditions of art making, which the artist had contended with for his entire career, the Agricolas are poetic homages to the agrarian origins of their medium, as well as monuments to the rural surrounds of Smith’s cherished Bolton Landing, where he had settled eleven years prior. Now housed in such reputable institutions as the Tate, London; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Agricolas mark the first series of artistic investigations that Smith would revisit over the next fourteen years of his life, ushering in a succession of subsequent explorations in the form of his Tanktotem, Voltri, and Cubi series.

The Latin term for “farmer” or “a deity of agriculture,” the artist’s use of the word agricola, demonstrates that Smith was attuned to the significance of his chosen materials. Salvaging the tools and disused machinery parts from the land around his home in upstate New York, the Agricolas were constructed of welded together pieces of agricultural refuse, such as plowshares, hoes and pliers. Indeed, while the individual components of these sculptures were subsumed into a new formal construction, their former utility feed into the significance of the work’s meaning. In fact, in a 1959 interview, Smith himself described the series, “The Agricola series are like new unities whose parts are related to past tools of agriculture. Forms in function are often not appreciated in their context except for their mechanical performance. With time and the passing of their function and a separation of their past, metaphoric changes can take place permitting a new unity, one that is strictly visual” (D. Smith, quoted in R. E. Krauss, The Sculpture of David Smith: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York and London, 1977, pp. 54-55).

Executed immediately following the creation of such celebrated works as Star Cage (Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis), Royal Bird (Walker Art Center, Minneapolis), Australia (Museum of Modern Art, New York) and Hudson River Landscape (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York), Agricola IV is a continuation of Smith’s celebrated notion of sculpture as a multi-faceted image penetrated by space. Dominated by its formidable, wheel-like oval, accentuated by an eye-like form, Agricola IV is anchored down the center with a vertebra of welded steel shapes from which an outcropping of geometrical forms emerges perpendicular to the base. Finding a champion in the surreal and abstracted figures of Alberto Giacometti, a noted influence on Smith, subtly hidden within each Agricola is a reference to the figurative. German art historian Jörn Merkert expands, “All of [the Agricolas] include a human form, sometimes very abstract or obscure, and all of them possess an almost magical fascination arising from the strangeness that concrete, everyday objects acquire when juxtaposed. The title of this series is anchored not only in the craftsman’s aesthetic which the sculptures embody and which grants the wielding process an expressive function, but also in the majestic image of a human existence, in which, despite a frequent playfulness of mood, agriculture is raised to the status of an ancient, fundamental condition of life” (J. Merkert, “There are no rules in sculpture,” David Smith: Sculpture and Drawings, exh. cat., Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf,1986, p. 40).

Smith›s work emerged partially out of the aesthetic of cubist collage, and above all the collaborative iron constructions of Pablo Picasso and Julio González. Seeing reproductions of the elder artist›s sculptures in a 1931 issue of Cahiers d’Art proved to be revelatory for the young artist. Their incorporation of found materials and commercial welding techniques, allied with González› idea of drawing in space, set Smith on his course of creative discovery. Like González, Smith had learned to weld while working in an automotive plant and he found in the examples set before him a chance to make sculpture in a tradition he was rooted in. «Before knowing what art was or before going to art school, as a factory worker I was acquainted with steel and machines used in forging it,” Smith explained. “During my second year at art school I learned about Cubism, Picasso and Julio González through [magazines]. From them I learned that art was being made with steel—the materials and machines that had previously only meant labor and earning power” (D. Smith quoted in K. Wilkin, David Smith, New York, 1984, p. 12).

However, Smith distinguished himself by using the materials and techniques particular to his time. He expanded on the visual clarity he saw in Picasso’s work and made it his own, combining his own visual aesthetic with the skills he gained as a fabricator to produce works of extraordinary depth and power. This application of European styles to vernacular American themes, exemplified by his Agricolas, gave new vitality to the sculptural medium. His eschewal of volumetric form in favor of a frontal, open, and linear mode of representation likewise broke with the longstanding sculptural practice of working in the round. The orientation toward one principle perspective largely emerged from Smith’s practice of laying shapes out on the ground, before elevating the welded forms vertically. Smith expanded on the visual clarity he saw in in Picasso’s work and made it his own, combining his own visual aesthetic with the skills he’d gained as a fabricator to produce works of extraordinary depth and power. With regard to is chosen medium, Smith became more and more fascinated and delighted with metal’s artistic possibilities. “The material called iron and steel I hold in high respect. What it can do in arriving at a form economically, no other material can do. The material itself possesses little art history. What associations it possesses are those of this century: power, structure, movement, progress, suspension, brutality” (D. Smith quoted in K. Wilkin, David Smith, New York, 1984, p. 20).

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