Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is proud to announce the groundbreaking exhibition David Smith: The Nature of Sculpture, showcasing the prolific and inventive work of David Smith (1906–1965). This landmark exhibition, the first to explore Smith’s deep engagement with nature, will open on September 23, 2024, and will be on view through March 2, 2025.

The art of David Smith is profuse and marvelously inventive. Working in multiple media, formats, and scales, he blurred boundaries between painting and sculpture and between traditional genres such as landscape and figuration. Smith’s bountiful oeuvre has secured him a firm place within art history and his adventurous approach to three-dimensional form has permanently expanded the vocabulary and range of sculptural practice.

Smith is widely hailed as the first American artist to make welded metal sculpture and to absorb industrial methods and materials into his creative repertoire. His inventiveness and contributions to sculptural practice extend far beyond machine vernacular and technique, however. Indeed, many have traced the origins of modern sculpture parks to Smith’s unprecedented outdoor installations on his Bolton Landing property in upstate New York. For Smith, nature was not only a source of inspiration but also served as studio, accomplice and staging ground for his complex sculptural works.

“While David Smith is recognized as the most important sculptor of the 20th century, there is still much to be learned about his expansive art, especially as it relates to the natural world,” says exhibition curator Suzanne Ramljak, Vice President of Collections & Curatorial Affairs at Meijer Gardens. “We are excited to reveal this crucial and lesser-known aspect of Smith’s career at Meijer Gardens, where sculpture and nature are so intimately bound.”

David Smith: The Nature of Sculpture will feature a selection of some 40 sculptures, alongside related paintings, reliefs, and works on paper, providing an in-depth exploration of Smith's sustaining connection with nature. Uniting key loans from major lenders—including The Whitney Museum of American Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and Storm King Art Center—the exhibition will be arranged in loose chronological order, beginning with Smith’s earliest sculptures from 1932 to the year before his accidental death in 1965. 

Viewers will encounter nature-based work from every decade of Smith’s career, including:

  • 1930s constructions with stones, shells, coral, and wood, along with biomorphic cast metal sculptures.
  • 1940s and 1950s pictorial sculpture landscapes, a genre of Smith’s own invention, which he enlisted to address an array of themes—from autobiography, House in a Landscape and his epic Hudson River Landscape; to color theory, Helmholtzian Landscape; to social norms, Cloistral Landscape.
  • Mid-1950s bronze reliefs depicting botanic motifs such as Rose GardenWild Plums, and Skull and Tree.
  • Late 1950s and early 1960s avian sculptures, including a series focused on ravens.
  • A selection of outdoor works that find their completion in the company of sky, wind and earth, as Smith intended.

This exhibition will have a particularly strong resonance at Meijer Gardens, where Smith's work will be in direct dialogue with the natural environment, including larger pieces situated out of doors. Do not miss this eye-opening exhibition, exclusively in Grand Rapids, and come witness David Smith’s thrilling sculptural translations of the natural world he knew and loved. 

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Exhibition Catalogue:

David Smith: The Nature of Sculpture will be accompanied by an exhibition catalogue co-published by Meijer Gardens and Hirmer/University of Chicago Press. The publication will feature contributions by the artist’s daughters, reflecting on Smith’s lived domestic experience of nature; an essay by curator Suzanne Ramljak, surveying Smith’s engagement with nature as material source, subject matter, and preferred site for his sculpture; appreciations by contemporary artists Beatriz Cortez and Mark di Suvero, addressing Smith’s contributions and connections to current art practice; and an illustrated artist’s chronology highlighting key nature-based events in David Smith’s life and art.

Exhibition Programming:

Unless otherwise noted, programs are included in the cost of admission and registration is not required.

Moving Out: David Smith & Outdoor Sculpture

Wednesday, October 9, 2–3 pm

Join Suzanne Ramljak, exhibition curator and Vice President of Collections & Curatorial Affairs, and Amber Oudsema, Curator of Arts Education, on a walk to explore the lasting legacy of famed Modernist master David Smith. Discover his influence on sculpture parks as we know them and the many successful artists who followed in Smith’s creative footsteps.

A full list of exhibition-related activities can be found at:

Frederik Meijer Gardens Sculpture