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Portrait von Anne M. Wagner
Speaker | Anne M. Wagner

David Smith: Sculpture as Sign

By the close of the 1960s, with its irrevocable growth of immaterial media, both European and American sculpture had been irreversibly transformed. How this art was to communicate and to whom were far from clear. For David Smith (1906–1965), this was the paramount question. How is sculpture, that eminently physical enterprise, like language? Does this mean it is also like writing? Like language, like writing, can it stop making sense?

Phrased in these terms, it is clear that such questions were not specific to Smith; on the contrary, they were shared with other thinkers—the anthropologists and structuralists, semioticians and philosophers of his day. Armed with the inventory of Smith’s library, and aware of his connections with and interest in contemporary intellectuals, this paper aims to look again at Smith’s sculpture with such questions in mind. What happens when sculpture takes on graphic life?

About Anne M. Wagner

Anne M. Wagner is an art historian, critic and teacher, as well as Class of 1936 Chair Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley. From 2013 to 2020, she was a Trustee of the Henry Moore Foundation. Her essays have appeared in “Artforum,” “Representations,” “October,” “London Review of Books,” and “Threepenny Review.” Her books include “Three Artists (Three Women)” (1996), “Mother Stone. The Vitality of Modern British Sculpture” (2005), and “A House Divided. American Art since 1955” (2012). In 2013, Tate Britain in London staged “Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life,” co-curated with T. J. Clark. In 2017, Wagner and Clark curated “Pity and Terror: Picasso’s Path to ‘Guernica,’” a major exhibition mounted by the Reina Sofía in Madrid to mark the bombing of the Basque capital.