FRAME|WORK is a weekly blog series highlighting an artwork in the Museums’ permanent collection. This week, we feature David Smith’s monumental sculpture, Zig V (1961).
David Smith is widely regarded as one of America’s most important sculptors. Drawing from European artistic traditions such as cubism and constructivism, Smith innovated the welded metal format, creating a robust body of work known for its diversity of form and expression. Frequently associated with the Abstract Expressionist movement in painting, Smith’s sculpture is often viewed as a three-dimensional equivalent to the monumental, gestural style that defined the artwork of that group.
After attending a single year of college, Smith left due to a lack of art classes and instead took a summer job working on the assembly line of an automobile factory. Soon thereafter, he moved to New York, where he was finally able to take art classes at the Art Students League of New York, and quickly fell in with modernist heavyweights such as John Sloan, Hans Hofmann and Willem de Kooning.
During World War II, Smith furthered his education in metalwork by providing his services as a welder to the American Locomotive Company, all the while teaching at Sarah Lawrence College. These additional skills led to a particularly productive outburst after the war’s end, when Smith’s sculptural explorations began in earnest. Whereas traditional metal sculpture is generally the result of bronze casts made from molds, Smith created his sculpture by joining together various pieces of steel and other metal in much the same way a painter builds up a canvas.
Zig V belongs to a series of eight numbered works made during the apex of Smith’s career. Hand painted in bright colors, this nearly ten-foot-high sculpture simultaneously references ancient Mesopotamian architecture (the title is derived from the word "ziggurat") and the human figure.
Experience David Smith’s massive metalwork in person—Zig V is currently on display in Gallery 13 at the de Young.