Ned Smyth ’70
(American, b. 1948)
Earth Capital, 1979.
Cast and molded concrete with pigment.
25 x 28 1/2 x 28 1/2 inches.
Kenyon College Collection; Gift of Carol and Arthur Goldberg.
On Public View: Kenyon College, Peirce Hall, Alcove
The richly textured, colorfully verdant foliage spreading abundantly over the geometric form of Earth Capital belies the rough solidity of the concrete that artist Ned Smyth used to create this sculpture. Yet Smyth recognized the flexibility of this aggregate material by pouring, casting, and molding his forms with it. Having begun his career in New York in the 1970s when Minimalism was at its peak, Smyth’s choice of concrete, with its uniquely malleable sculptural properties and structural capabilities, may expand upon the Minimalist preference for industrial materials. However, his medium also has Classical roots, extending back to the engineering of ancient Rome. In fact, Earth Capital exemplifies a larger body of work that Smyth produced from 1977-1988 for which he experimented with the aesthetics of ancient European monuments that he first saw as a child, while traveling with his art historian parents. He presented a selection of these pieces in the exhibition Pantheism 1979-1986, which included, for example, sculptures on concrete plinths resembling the form and structure of Classical columns; mosaics of nude male figures, writhing with the emotional power of Hellenistic sculpture; columns topped with decorative palm capitals recalling the ornamental acanthus leaves of the Corinthian order, and large-scale relief carvings and mosaics with Mediterranean flora and fauna, similar to the luxurious decorations of Pompeiian villas. Crowning a narrow pedestal that resembles a column, Earth Capital calls to mind architectural forms of Greco-Roman temples, which the artist evokes within the quiet alcove of Pierce Hall to convey a mood of reverence. When commenting on his concrete and mosaic pieces, Smyth explained, “My work is about reverence, not necessarily religious but an expression of reverence as a personal ideal.” – “Art But Not Religion: Ned Smyth: Belief In Concrete And Mosaics,” Los Angeles Times, August 25, 1987.