‘And I know damned-well what he wanted!’ Deliberate Alteration and Interpretations of Intent in Several Late Sculptures by David Smith

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Some years after the death of David Smith (1906–1965), Clement Greenberg, then executor of his estate, made a decision to have the white painted surface stripped from five sculptures and present them as authentic works by the artist. In removing what he considered to be a temporary primer coating that had already begun to deteriorate, Greenberg believed that he was restoring unfinished works to a state that would more accurately reflect Smith’s artistic intention, something over which he felt he could claim to have authority. Although supported in his actions by several prominent critics at the time, Greenberg was tarnished by the scandal and resigned from the estate in 1979. Raising questions about authenticity, the value of the original, the availability of the artist’s intent and who speaks for the artist after his death, a discussion on the reasons behind the original alteration and subsequent restoration of these works by the present David Smith Estate is provided. The idea that a single authentic state for Smith’s stripped sculptures can be identified is questioned, and possibility of authenticity being linked to multiple biographies of the work is suggested.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Real Thing?
Subtitle of host publicationAuthenticity and Replication: The “Real Thing?” in Art and Conservation
EditorsErma Hermens, Frances Lennard, Rebecca Gordon
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherArchetype Publications
Number of pages8
ISBN (Print)9781904982999
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2014
Externally publishedYes

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