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Beth Sorensen
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Curator lecture on opening night, April 18

David Smith: Two Into Three Dimensions, an exhibition of painting, drawings, relief paintings, and sculpture by the late artist--considered by some to be America's greatest sculptor--will be on exhibit in Reed's Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery from April 18 through June 18. With works dating from 1932 through 1962, the exhibition gives viewers a rare opportunity to investigate the concepts of media, dimensionality, and manipulation that intrigued Smith during his lifetime.

Exhibition curator Karen Wilkin, author of David Smith: Two Into Three Dimensions (Grassfield Press, 2000) and David Smith (Abbeville Press, 1987), will give an opening night lecture on Tuesday, April 18, at 7 p.m. in Reed's Vollum lecture hall.

Both the exhibition and lecture are free and open to the public.

The Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery is open every day except Monday from noon to 5 p.m. The gallery is in Reed's library. Parking is available nearby, and the #19 bus stops on Woodstock at the campus entrance near the library. For other information, please call 503/777-7790.

The name of David Smith (1906-65) is synonymous with some of the greatest works of art created in the twentieth century, in particular his sculptures from the Totem, Cubi, and Voltri series. In the past two decades a number of exhibitions have been devoted to the lesser known works--works on paper, the paintings, and the bas reliefs. David Smith: Two Into Three Dimensions explores the significance of Smith's thorough interest in and pursuit of multiple mediums throughout his career.

David Smith argued he "belonged with painters." Indeed, his closest friends among his contemporaries were painters: Adolf Gottlieb, Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, and Kenneth Noland. Smith's formal training was as a painter, something most evident in the planar quality of much of the work and its unconventional (at the time) application of paint directly to steel or bronze. "My work of 1934 to 1936 was often referred to as line sculpture," Smith said in a lecture in 1952, "but to me it was as complete a statement about form and color as I could make. . . . I do not recognize the limits where painting ends and sculpture begins."

Karen Wilkin's book David Smith: Two Into Three Dimensions articulates the importance of drawing, painting, and low-relief sculpture in his development as an artist. Wilkin argues that this work was not a mere exercise or inquiry that would ultimately lead to his best-known sculptures, but rather part of an ongoing dialogue between the distinct mediums, as likely to be influenced by the sculpture as to lead to it. "Smith used drawing and painting to explore the implications of his sculptures, 'constructing' expressive structures with bold, detached brushstrokes, unconstrained by the demands of gravity or stability that sculpture must acknowledge." In particular, Wilkin's essay devotes a large section to Smith's relief work and its significance to his move from working exclusively as a painter to exploring the third dimension. She posits, "Perhaps because of the pictorial nature of relief, Smith seems to have used the medium to bridge the gap between painting or drawing and sculpture, so that these works can be read as the 'missing link' in his varied oeuvre."

This exhibition is comprehensive, informative, and most pleasantly surprising. There is a great deal we do not know about this artist who introduced steel to the medium of sculpture and dramatically changed the landscape of modern art. The "bone" paintings, small, rough collages bathed in enamel paint; the Medals of Dishonor describing the horrors of war; the clay or bronze reliefs--all shine a brilliant light on the extraordinary range and expansive potential of David Smith's mind and creative talent.

Karen Wilkin is an independent curator and critic living in New York City. Her many other books and exhibition catalogues include works on Stuart Davis, Kenneth Noland, Helen Frankenthaler, Georges Braque, Anthony Caro, and Isaac Witkin. A regular contributor to the New Criterion, Partisan Review, and the Hudson Review, she currently teaches at the New York Studio School.

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