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United States of America 1906 – 1965

25 planes 1958 sculptures, stainless steel
Technique: stainless steel
Primary Insc: inscribed on steel plaque fastened to leg of sculpture, "David Smith/ 7.13.58/ 25 planes"
350.5 h x 169.5 w x 40.0 d cm
Purchased 1978
Accession No: NGA 78.31
© David Smith/VAGA. Licensed by Viscopy

  • the estate of the artist;
  • from whom bought through Marlborough Gerson Gallery, New York, by Lester Avnet, Great Neck, New York, 1968;
  • bought through Marlborough Gallery Inc., New York, by the Australian National Gallery, February 1978
  • This is one of approximately 11 stainless steel sculptures made by David Smith between 1957 and 1962. It is similar to the others in being made up of flat rectangular sections, twenty of which are in a two-dimensional array. Apart from calling the series Unities, he had no subject matter in mind that could be put into words: for him the sculptures were completely visual.

    Working with an assortment of pre-cut shapes, Smith experimented with various layouts on the floor. Shapes radiate up and out from the longest and thinnest plane, and in their tumbling just manage to maintain contact with each other around two hollow spaces, as though frozen after an explosion in a moment of transitional instability, the tiny thin strip hanging on the other side being an unpromising counterweight

    Grinding away the deposits left by the arc welding may have encouraged Smith to make a feature of the circular scouring of the plates’ surfaces. He conceived the series for display in bright light, which accentuates the rhythm of the artist’s hands in the buffing, as though he was painting in steel, and gives the surfaces a holographic appearance of movement and depth.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

  • 25 planes is the fourth of a series of approximately eleven closely related sculptures fabricated in stainless steel and characteristically made up of rectangular planes arranged in two dimensions. In the special edition of Arts devoted to David Smith, published in February 1960, the artist stated that he 'started in 1957 with a series of stainless steel pieces from nine to fifteen feet tall. They are conceived for bright light, preferably for the sun, to develop the illusion of surface and depth. Eight works are finished.'1 In 1962 Smith further described this group: 'I'm still working on the stainless steel pieces. These I call Unities, and they are further identified by the number of planes they have. I have no tangible word relationships with subject matter where these are concerned. They're completely visual.'2

    It seems likely that Smith's adoption of stainless steel as a medium in 1957 determined the basic characteristics of this group. As the stainless steel was much harder to cut than the metal he had used previously, Smith ordered pre-cut plates in an assortment of basic geometric shapes from Ryerson Steel Fabricators, his suppliers. This restriction provided the simple repertoire of squares and rectangles used in the 'Unities'. Cautious with the new material, Smith would lay out the elements on a flat surface to determine the final arrangement, then join them with the welder in this basically two-dimensional array. The arc welder used to join the metal left a deposit that had to be ground away, a fact that may have encouraged Smith to make a feature of the circular scouring of the surface of the planes.3 Work on the 'Unitites' ceased when Smith began work on the 'Voltri' series in June 1962.

    Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.295.

    1. David Smith, 'Notes On My Work', Arts, February 1960, p.44.
    2. 'David Smith', an interview with Katherine Kuh in The Artist's Voice: Talks With Seventeen Artists, New York: Harper and row, 1962; reprinted in David Smith 1906-1965: A Retrospective Exhibition, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, 1966, p.106.
    3. For a more detailed account of Smith's use of stainless steel see Stanley E. Marcus, David Smith: The Sculptor and His Work, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1983, pp.162-3.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010