The Leon Polk Smith Foundation in New York City is donating more than 750 works on paper to the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. “The Board is pleased to share these art studies, true documents of Smith’s enormous fount of creativity and inventive capacity to renew his vision continually over a period of some 60 years,” said Robert T. Buck, the Foundation’s Board Chairman and former Director of the Brooklyn Museum.
This gift will create the largest public works-on-paper study collection of the art of Leon Polk Smith (1906-1996). It is also the largest number of works donated by a single owner to the OSU Museum of Art, said Director Victoria Berry.
This acquisition is of particular importance to the OSU Museum of Art collection as it enhances its holding of work by significant artists with Oklahoma roots, a central priority of the museum. “We are particularly happy to send these works permanently to Smith’s native state and aid this new museum to build its collection of Oklahoma artists with a gift of such magnitude,” said Patterson Sims, President of the Board of the Leon Polk Smith Foundation.
The gift provides a collection of work that will serve as an invaluable scholarly research and exhibition development resource for the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. The museum will collaborate in its use with other well-established art museums in the state such as East Central University (where Smith studied), the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, and the Philbrook Museum of Art.
Born in 1906, Smith grew up and received his education in the new state of Oklahoma, which was a formative influence on his character and artistic development through his early thirties. In 1945 Smith moved to New York City where he pioneered a style of geometric abstraction that laid the foundation for Minimalism in the 1960s. Best known for his paintings, Smith created more than 2,200 unique works on paper throughout his career. The gift spans from Smith's earliest extant work, a watercolor still life of 1933, to his later 1930s figurative and surrealist images. He then turned to abstraction inspired directly by the neo-plasticism of Piet Mondrian. In the later 1940s he moved on to vividly explore a wide variety of biomorphic and hard-edged geometric abstract forms. Throughout Smith’s mature career he was an adventurous colorist with a tireless drive to explore of the full variety of formal abstraction. Smith’s works of the 1950s into the 1990s culminate in his later, much more reductive geometric abstraction that both anticipates and allies him with the Minimalist movement.
Highlights from this acquisition will be publicly introduced in Leon Polk Smith: Back to Oklahoma, an exhibition from May 31, 2016 – Sept. 3, 2016 at the OSU Museum of Art. The exhibition will feature a selection of prints, drawings, and paintings. A special reception is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016, from 5 to 7 pm.