David Smith (1906-1965)
David Smith (1906-1965)

False Peace Spectre

David Smith (1906-1965)
False Peace Spectre
inscribed 'David Smith/1945.F123' (on the side of the base)
bronze and steel painted blue
12½ x 27¼ x 10¾ in. (32 x 69.2 x 27.4 cm.)
Executed in 1945.
Estate of the Artist
Dr. and Mrs. Todd Makler, Philadelphia
Acquired from the above by the present owner
B. Wolf, "Steel and Iron Sculpture at Buchholz and Willard Galleries," Art Digest, January 1946, p. 20.
"Steel Sculpture at Willard and Buchholz Galleries," Architectural Forum, February 1946, p. 146 (illustrated).
R. Coates, "Past and Present," New Yorker, January 1946, pp. 49-50. M. Riley, "The Modern Idiom in Concrete Terms: The Sculpture of David Smith," MKR's Art Outlook I, February 1946, p. 5.
S. Metltzoff, "David Smith and Social Surrealism," Magazine of Art, March 1946, p. 101 (illustrated).
"New Sculpture," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 1946, p. 4.
L. Beam, "David Smith," Journal of the American Association of University Women, Spring 1950, p. 132 (illustrated).
David Smith 1906-1965: A Retrospective Exhibition, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, 1966, p. 69.
R. Krauss, Terminal Iron Works: The Sculpture of David Smith, Cambridge, 1971, pp. 68, 127-128, no. 103 (illustrated).
G. McCoy, ed., Documentary Monongraphs in Modern Art: David Smith, New York and Washington, 1973, p. 31, no. 176 (illustrated).
R. Krauss, The Sculptures of David Smith: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York and London, 1977, p. 31, no. 176 (illustrated).
K. Wilkin, David Smith: The Formative Years, Sculptures and Drawings from the 1930s and 1940s, Edmonton, 1981, p. 12.
S. Marcus, David Smith: The Sculptor and His Work, Ithaca and London, 1983, p. 68.
New York, Bucholz/Willard Gallery, The Sculpture of David Smith, January 1946, no. 43 (illustrated).
Detroit Institute of the Arts and St. Louis, City Art Museum, Origins of Modern Sculpture, February-May 1946, p. 11.
Worcester, John Woodman Higgins Armory, Summer 1947.
Wooster Art Museum, Sculpture at the Crossroads, February-March 1948, no. 52.
New York, The Sculptors Guild, Tenth Anniversary Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition, April 1948, p. 55 (illustrated).
New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, David Smith: Small Sculptures of the Mid-Forties, May-June 1968, no. 2, fig. 2 (illustrated).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, David Smith, October 1969-February 1970.
New York, Washburn Gallery, Jackson Pollock and David Smith: Paintings and Sculptures from the 1930s and 1940s, February-March 2001, p. 7 (illustrated in color).
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, David Smith: A Centennial, February-May 2006, n.p. no. 30 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

False Peace Spectre (1945) is one of five spectres that David Smith executed in the mid-1940s that directly addresses his political convictions about the War. Of a strongly leftist bent, the artist believed that the senseless brutality and victimization of war was the capitalist solution to societal problems, stating specifically of his Spectre of Profit (Race for Survival) (1946)" for the capitalist conception of man--war (becomes the) natural condition of selection" (R. Krauss, Terminal Iron Works, Cambridge, MA, 1971, p. 126). Featuring a stylized group of tortured figures trapped in the ominous jaws of a carnivorous bird of prey, which also doubles as a war plane, Smith savagely dissected heroic attitudes to the War.

Fiercely anti-war, anti-capitalist and anti-fascist, Smith was concerned about being drafted, fearing that it would legitimize man's inherent tendency (as well as his own) towards violence. As one of his most unequivocal efforts of his career, Medals of Dishonor (1938-40) was an immediate response to the advent of World War II and an angry denunciation against the atrocities of war. Stirred by German propaganda medals for World War I that he saw in the British Museum and intended to satirize, Smith created a vividly intense and harrowing iconography, culled from the annals of art history (particularly Hieronymus Bosch and Peter Breughel and the Surrealism's invocation of subconscious imagery). Conflating the persecution of war with the violation of women (thereby also merging violence with sexuality) he created a composite cannon-phallus and a winged cannon-phallus-bird/finned cannon-phallus-fish as rapists and ravagers. Smith would develop these motifs and retain them as the focus of his work until the early 1950s. Indeed, False Peace Spectre is a direct evolution of these forms.

Emanating associations of power, threat, mystery and death, False Peace Spectre is at once imbued with the primitive and the ultra-modern. Reminiscent of Jurassic Bird (1945) that was created in the same year and based on the skeleton of a prehistoric diving bird that Smith had seen in the Museum of Natural History, the present work is similarly allusive of an extinct bird of prey. Particularly resonant is its devouring jaws that seem ready to clamp down on the helplessly trapped figures and its upper jaw that appears like a winged phallus and morphs into predatory crab-like claws at its ends. Yet, for all its prehistoric suggestiveness, the work also recalls a modern fighter jet, particularly through the powerful, aerodynamic slope of its wing and its sharp, jagged ends. Smith ingeniously evokes the horrors of war-related industry while simultaneously alluding to the organic form of a bird.

Beauty and terror co-exist in Smith's sculpture, and this tenuous relationship is readily captured in his relationship to his medium: "Possibly steel is so beautiful, because of all the movement associated with it, its strength and functions. Yet, it is also brutal: the rapist, the murderer and death-dealing giants are also its offspring" (D. Smith cited in G. Cleve, ed., David Smith by David Smith, New York, 1968, p. 4). The present work comprises steel as well as cast bronze, and melds a modern practice to an established one. Following the radical example of Pablo Picasso and Julio Gonzalez, whose welded sculpture Smith saw in Cahier d'Art in the late 1930s, Smith began to create welded and forged sculptures out of steel, thereby revolutionizing American sculpture. In False Peace Spectre Smith displays his mastery over a modern industrial material, coaxing a work of exceptional intricacy, formal beauty and powerful expressiveness. He breathes life into his works: rather than being static, False Peace Spectre is imbued with a sense of dynamism that defies the heaviness of its medium.

Trained as a painter, Smith did not distinguish between the realms of painting and sculpture. He often painted his sculpture, usually in a single color that was used to unite its disparate parts, but also protect it from rusting when it was exposed to air and moisture. False Peace Spectre is no exception. Painted deep blue, the bronze and steel work is united into a whole such that every nuance of form is highlighted. Evoking the sky, the sculpture's blue hue heightens its allusion to a bird or war-plane. Such associations add to its kinetic energy and streamlined elegance.

Extending the sculpture's vitality are its inherent layers of duality. Fluctuating between pre-history and modernity, brutality and eroticism, splendor and dread, False Peace Spectre does not assume a static, singular meaning.

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