more than 25 years after it’s printing and on the occasion of the current exhibition of collages and original-serigraphies by leon polk smith at galerie hoffmann, the artist portfolio “werkübersicht II” (1946-80/1995) was published in june 2021. accompanied by werner möller’s introductory text, which is previewed in parts in the following, the portfolio comprises ten original-serigraphies. “werkübersicht II” is the forth artist portfolio by leon polk smith to be published with edition hoffmann.
for leon polk smith it is the vastness of oklahoma that is posed against the rectangular horizontal grid of the city map of new york and the vertical cityscape rising on it
«three elements which have interested me in art are: line, color, and the concept of space and its use as a positive force.» leon polk smith, 1961
on the one hand, this sentence, in its clarity and precision, is an expression of the artist’s self-assurance that he is at the height of his work. on the other hand, in its radical reduction of the artistic field of action, the statement raises in the form of only three elements—line, color, and spatial concept—the question of the role of other artistic means of expression such as shapes, surfaces, image structure, and principles of order, but also the question of overarching artistic positions and messages in leon polk smith’s work, which he describes quite broadly as a positive force at the end of the sentence. the names of two of his main groups of works, «correspondence series» and «constellation series», provide central points of reference for penetrating deeper into these positions. [...]
the two series are a comprehensive testimony to leon polk smith’s intense engagement with the abstract european avant-garde, especially with piet mondrian, but also with hans arp and constantin brâncuși. a direct bridge to piet mondrian is built not only in the correspondences between vertical and horizontal in the early abstract geometric work of leon polk smith, but also his later constellations of individual works and elements in space, as already realized by mondrian from 1921 to 1936 in his paris studio and from 1938 to 1944 in his new york studio. the spatial concepts of piet mondrian and leon polk smith are based on the same aspirations to transform the apparently banal and empty space between individual works or work elements they have placed in the room into an overarching, positively charged and intangible field of force and tension.
this artistically and conceptually ideated bond between piet mondrian and leon polk smith can be extended even further, spatially, pictorially, and even biographically: for leon polk smith it is the vastness of oklahoma that is posed against the rectangular horizontal grid of the city map of new york and the vertical cityscape rising on it, while for mondrian it is his path from the expanse of the low-lying dutch polder landscapes to his abstract concrete vertical-horizontal compositions which after his migration to new york found their culmination in the boogie-woogie paintings.
werner möller, 2021 (excerpt, translation from the original german by robert b. rodger, 2021)