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About This Artwork
Cubi VII, 1963
281.9 x 175.3 x 58.4 cm (111 x 69 x 23 in.)
Grant J. Pick Purchase Fund, 1964.1141
David Smith was among the first American artists to master the use of steel and other industrial materials. After many years of working metal into evocative linear compositions, he forged a new, formal language for sculpture through increased focus on shape, volume, surface, and structure. Cubi VII is part of a series executed in the four years that preceded his untimely death in 1965; the twenty-eight sculptures are most known for their use of industrial stainless steel. While the spare, sleek forms of the Cubi series relate them to Minimalist sculpture of the 1960s, the works also reflect the artist’s connection to Abstract Expressionism in the gestural quality of their wire-brushed surfaces and their attendant emotive power. Its abstract qualities intact, Cubi VII also seems to allude to the human figure. Indeed, the large, central form and adjacent shapes evoke a torso with limbs. Yet when one walks around the sculpture, it becomes less a symbol of the human form than a vehicle for exploring the relationship between architectonic volumes and the space surrounding them. Despite its solidity, the piece appears to have no fixed center, and its elements seem precariously positioned, challenging accepted notions of balance. The reflective, burnished surfaces of Cubi VII pick up the shifting light of its outdoor site—the Art Institute’s north garden on Michigan Avenue.