At the time of his accidental death in 1965, David Smith was regarded by his many admirers—this writer among them—as the pre-eminent American sculptor of his generation. Some of us went even further and proclaimed him to be the greatest of all American sculptors, and one of the few American artists of his time whose work could claim a place beside that of the great European modernists. This was not, alas, the accepted view during much of the artist’s lifetime, and it is still very far from being the universal view of his achievement today. But the whole history of Smith’s reputation and career is a very odd one. From early on, his work had always been lavished with a good deal of praise, but it was not the kind of praise that in those days led to success. Collectors showed little inclination to acquire the work, the museums either overlooked it entirely or settled for minor examples, and no...


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