Should We Cancel David Smith? An Epic New Biography Takes Up the Famed Sculptor’s Violent Side

David Smith, Fish, 1950–51, in the artist’s 2006 Tate Modern retrospective.PHOTO CATHAL MCNAUGHTON/PA IMAGES VIA GETTY IMAGES

You can’t judge an artist biography by its cover, but based on its size, you can tell a lot about who’s being profiled before you even read the first page.

Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan wrote a truly great biography of the Abstract Expressionist painter Willem de Kooning (732 pages), as well as another, more recent one about Francis Bacon (880 pages). Steven Naifeh penned the ultimate book on Jackson Pollock (934 pages), and Blake Gopnik recently wrote the life story of the Pop artist Andy Warhol (976 pages). The late art historian John Richardson has been celebrated for his Pablo Picasso biography, which spans four volumes, each of which is far longer than the average novel. One common denominator among them all is outsized art-historical impact; another is their race and gender.

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