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Untitled
(Study for Agricola I)

1951
Cast iron and paint
117.5 x 92.7 x 25 cm / 46 ¼ x 36 ½ x 9 ⅞ in

A pivotal work in David Smith’s oeuvre, ‘Untitled (Study for Agricola I)’ (1951) is the precursor to the seminal ‘Agricola’ series, the artist’s first major group of sculpture. Created between 1951 and 1959, this body of 17 abstract works exemplifies the particular alchemy for which Smith is renowned, in which found pieces of obdurate scrap metal and discarded farm equipment are transformed into compositions that are at once elegant, lyrical and weighty.

Regarded as a titan of American sculpture, Smith began his artistic career as a painter and sustained an affinity for draftsmanship throughout his oeuvre. Combining this with his background as a welder, he introduced a new kind of sculpture that balances substance and voids, effectively ‘drawing in space’. These elements are present in his work on paper ‘Study for ‘Agricola I’’ (1951), a foundational component that led to both sculptural study and its final iteration.


[Figs. 1 & 2 / recto & verso]
David Smith, Study for ‘Agricola I’, 1952
Collection Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum

‘Since I had worked in factories and made parts of automobiles and had worked on telephone lines I saw a chance to make sculpture in a tradition I was already rooted in’.—David Smith

Borrowing within its title from the Latin word for farmer, ‘Untitled (Study for Agricola I)’ evokes man and machine, it’s punctured polygonal head made of the blade of a plough, its outstretched, cast iron arms extracted from a segment of a piano frame. Belying its simplified, roughhewn form, as the only sculptural study within the Agricola series, here we find Smith laying the groundwork for ‘Agricola I’ (1951-52), and related works that followed.

[Fig. 3]
David Smith, Agricola I, 1951-1952
Collection Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

As E. A. Carmean Jr., observes, ‘By almost all accounts David Smith’s work of 1951 and 1952 marks the dividing line in his oeuvre, separating his sculpture into its early phase and that of its mature career… This particular material [abandoned or disused pieces of farm machinery], in turn, generated a new kind of figuration in Smith’s art, one that would remain at the core of his sculptural thinking until his death’.[1]

Set against the sprawling backdrop of Bolton Landing, where Smith lived from 1940 until his untimely death in 1965, ‘Untitled (Study for Agricola I)’ can be read as an homage to the toiling of the landscape, while embodying the regeneration of sculpture. Eschewing material conventions, Smith emphasizes his connection with the progress of American industry, demonstrating the cogency and resonance of welding iron and steel, an act that would forge the trajectory of sculpture through the twentieth century.

Hauser & Wirth New York, 69th Street

On view at our New York gallery on 69th Street, ‘David Smith. Follow My Path’ invites viewers to explore the daring artistic processes by which Smith revolutionized notions of sculpture’s form and function, embarking on new terrain in the field of abstraction. David Smith’s ‘Untitled (Study for Agricola I)’ can be viewed by appointment alongside other works by the artist.

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[1] E.A. Carmean, Jr., ‘David Smith’, Washington DC: National Gallery of Art, 1982, p. 69.

Images: David Smith, Untitled (Study for Agricola I), 1951 © 2021 The Estate of David Smith / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Courtesy the Estate. Photo: Ken Adlard; [Fig. 1] David Smith, Study for ‘Agricola I’ (recto), 1951. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Lois Orswell © 2020 The Estate of David Smith / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1974.148; [Fig. 2] David Smith, Study for ‘Agricola I’ (verso), 1951. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Lois Orswell © 2020 The Estate of David Smith / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1974.148; [Fig. 3] David Smith, Agricola I, 1951-1952. Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1966. Photo: Cathy Carver Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; David Smith welding ‘17 h’s’, Bolton Landing, NY, c. 1950 © 2021 The Estate of David Smith / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Courtesy the Estate of David Smith; Installation view, ‘David Smith. Follow My Path,’ Hauser & Wirth New York, 69th Street, New York NY, 2021 © 2021 The Estate of David Smith / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: Thomas Barratt; David Smith welding ‘Agricola I’ (1951-1952), Bolton Landing NY, c. 195. © John Stewart. Photo: John Stewart