FROM THE COLLECTION Washington's Prize Possessions

FROM THE COLLECTION Washington's Prize Possessions

Sunday, October 15, 2006

One reason David Smith (1906-1965) is so notable among abstract expressionist sculptors is that there weren't very many. Another is that his life and his looks -- he was a big, muscular man who often posed with acetylene torches and blacksmith's tongs, wore a black moustache and died violently in a car crash -- were perfectly in keeping with the movement's heroic myths. This is his "Cubi XI" (1964) on T Street just off Connecticut Avenue NW. Abstraction mostly works better in painting than in sculpture; sculpture is too concrete. Smith, late in life, attacked this problem by disk-grinding the surfaces of his 28 "Cubi" sculptures so that they shimmer and dematerialize as the viewer moves around them. The flat rectangles of "Cubi XI" look as much like abstract pictures as they do like metal sheets.

"Cubi XI" is like a juggling act. The way its steel boxes looked tossed into the air adds sprightliness to its lightness.

It's in the wrong place. Its ebullience is embarrassed by the heavy dullness of the building it is set against. And it's not big enough. It would look better in a living room than it does on this dull site.

-- Paul Richard

"Cubi XI" stands on a marble pedestal next to the T Street entrance of the Universal Building North of the Cafritz Co., 1875 Connecticut Ave. NW.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company