Installation shot from Advancing Abstraction in Modern Sculpture, 2010, at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Photograph by Mitro Hood
David Smith's sculpture, Poured Metal Form from 1955 forcefully contains visual contradictions and ambiguities. It oscillates between the figurative and abstract, the organic and synthetic, the poetic and dissonant, and subsequently questions the role of sculpture as a medium that represents, that recreates or that simply serves as a visual manifestation of the sculptor's aesthetic concerns. The upright form is suggestively anthropomorphic, a distant allusion to two bodies united into a single configuration. The highly textured and "poured" quality of the object-a deviation from Smith's traditionally straight lines and smooth surfaces-contributes to this notion, lending organic undertones to the sculpture without resembling any specific element of nature or the human body. Its figural complexities are both alluring and provocative, a contrariety to the conventional definition of beauty deliberately invoked by Smith: "My concept as an artist is a revolt against the well-worn beauties in the form of a statue. Rather I would prefer my assemblages to be the savage idols of basic patterns, the veiled directives, subconscious associations" (D. Smith, quoted in David Smith, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2010, p. 34).
Smith very frequently photographed his own artwork, often staging them individually or in small groups against a backdrop of the grounds of Bolton Landing in upstate New York, where he kept his home and studio. One photograph features Poured Metal Form in the foreground alongside two works of similar style and stature-Mutation I, 1956-57 and North-South Dancer, 1956-57-all three set against a distant landscape of rolling Adirondack Mountains and vivid blue sky. The scenic background effectively softens the presentation of the works, which might otherwise be considered visually severe, and serves as a reminder that Smith's oeuvre was almost always referential to nature and the natural world surrounding him: "My sculpture is part of my world; it's part of my everyday living; it reflects my studio, my house, my trees, the nature of the world I live in," D. Smith, quoted by M. Brenson in "The Fields," David Smith: A Centennial, exh. cat., Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2006, p. 65). The trio was reunited in 2010 at the Baltimore Museum of Art's exhibition Advancing Abstraction in Modern Sculpture, where their arrangement was recreated beneath a reproduction of Smith's original photograph.