Preview: Wexner Center winter exhibits

By Columbus Alive
From the January 26, 2012 edition

“David Smith: Cubes and Anarchy”

Of all the angles that make up sculptor David Smith’s work — and geometric abstraction being the backbone of his oeuvre, there are a lot — the most important perspective to the artist was that of the working class.

Before he became an artist, Smith worked in an automotive factory. Throughout his career he proudly touted his steelworkers’ union membership and promoted his belief that art suffered when it was an elite members-only club.

Smith accomplished this through myriad means. He welded his sculptures himself, using metals of the brutish industrial age he came from. He sculpted geometrical, pure shapes referencing a utopian vision for a fairer future. He was a workhorse, known for his long hours devoted to the craft.

“All of that was incredibly significant,” to both Smith and to understanding his art, said Wexner chief curator Christopher Bedford.

“David Smith: Cubes of Anarchy” is the first major thematic exhibition featuring the work of Smith, whom many critics consider to be the most influential American sculptor of the 20th century (extraordinary because Smith died in a car accident in 1965). The Wex is the third and final stop for the show, which the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art have also had on view.

More than 80 Smith sculptures, prints, photographs and drawings will take up the Wex’s main galleries. Displayed in chronological order, the mammoth exhibit precipitates consideration of how each piece influenced the next.

To commence, photographs of metal and machinery on ship docks precede one of Smith’s earliest sculptures, 1933’s iron and bronze “Saw Head.” Viewers then travel through his work from the following decades up to the monumental sculptures of his final years (ie. “Cubi I,” “Cubi V,” “Untitled Candida”).

All prove Smith’s genius for taking the gestural spontaneity of the action painters of his time to a three-dimensional playing field without letting go of his steel-toed roots.

“One of the merits of this show,” Bedford said, “is that it demonstrates the singularity of his vision across his entire career … It tells you a story.”

Ernst Caramelle

At first, Austrian artist Ernst Caramelle’s site-specific mural in the Wexner’s lobby looks simple — right-angle-edged shapes painted in softly solid colors overlap. But relax your eyes and questions of perception will take hold. Simplicity is exactly what makes Caramelle noteworthy.

“I find this particularly amazing. He’s very subtle in the work he does,” Bedford said. “The idea that he creates recessive space or the illusion of recessive space using flat applications of paint on a completely flat wall is remarkable. There’s no trompe l’oeil. He uses something that’s factually itself — flat paint — to create the trick.”

“Sarah Morris: Points on a Line”

To understand Sarah Morris’ video essay “Points on a Line,” a little contentious architecture history lesson: Philip Johnson designed Glass House, and it was completed in 1949. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed Farnsworth House, and it was completed in 1951. Both buildings are transparent, minimalist and gorgeous, and their similarities and influences have long been debated. Morris uses the controversy of the two houses as a catalyst to discuss artistic originality and architecture as a social construct.

Photo by Will Shilling