Bouquet of Concaves, 1959. Painted steel, 27.5 x 38.5 x 8 in. © Estate of David Smith/Licensed by VAGA, NY.

David Smith: Moments of Invention and Experimentation

The work of David Smith is a monolith in the history of modern American art. And like all monolithic structures, it is surrounded by a simplified, essentialized, almost mythological narrative. Now, 35 years after his death, two exhibitions have begun to explore his prodigious output in a much more comprehensive manner. The myth might remain—the solitary welder staking out an American chapter in postwar three-dimensional art—but “David Smith Invents,” shown at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, and “Cubes and Anarchy,” on view through July 24 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, revealed important aspects of his production and placed them in context. Ranging from rarely seen sculptures and numerous paintings (which is where Smith started) to notebooks, drawings, and relatively unknown photographic works, these two shows offered a nuanced and fascinating account of Smith in an expanded field.