The genius of postwar American art was distilled into the blunt but accurate label "action painting": Pollock dancing around his canvas; de Kooning's searching, sweeping brushstrokes. Another niche in this pantheon goes to the craggy sculptor David Smith (1906–1965), whose stenciled canvases combine volume, space, movement, texture, color, and contour—all the visceral gestures your eye, gut, and spine respond to when communing with a great painting. (A similar boldness energizes the drippy red dots and hand stencils in France's Chauvet cave; they still feel fresh 30,000 years after their pigments were blown from the artists' mouths. Smith once noted that Paleolithic art "defies word explanation as does any art.") An early adapter of aerosol enamel when it hit the market in the mid-'50s, Smith placed metal cut-offs from his sculptures and other studio scraps onto canvas or sheets of paper and then sprayed around them with intense color, leaving white shapes behind when the stencil material was lifted off the surface. Depending on the can's angle and its distance from the object, Smith could make his contours soft or sharp, opaque or misty, implying space and creating volume. Sometimes these background colors are slightly misaligned, imperfections that emphasize the artist's seemingly effortless balance of industrial methods and thrillingly emotional physicality; often the canvases are vertical, alluding to Smith's soaring abstract sculptures. Overlapping in varying densities, these white negative shapes convey the technological charge of X-rays while remaining as mysterious as a convocation of spirits. At times, Smith reworked edges with a brush, adding rough, scraggly textures, but it's his use of the ephemeral sfumato technique (Renaissance jargon for "turned to vapor") that makes these ghosts sing. Look at numbers 16 and 17 in the show, two untitled canvases that convey monumental structures fronting vast, atmospheric vistas, although they're each only 12 inches square. In this extensive body of work, the subjects are missing. What objects made these beautiful shapes? It's like the Rapture—the godly disappear into the ether while those less pure are left behind amid a radiant, earthy absence. Where would... More >>>