The Brooklyn Rail review on Leon Polk Smith: 1940-1961 exhibition.

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Installation view: Leon Polk Smith: 1940–1961, Lisson Gallery, New York, 2024. © Leon Polk Smith Foundation. Courtesy Lisson Gallery.

What is it like to be “of one’s time” and not? Leon Polk Smith was a prime progenitor of American hard-edged abstraction whose non-objective pedigree as a protégé of the painter and philanthropist Hilla Rebay, and subsequent track record of showing in the Betty Parsons and Egan Gallery early on, puts him squarely in the pocket of post-war American art ascendancy yet his legacy has subsequently remained a relatively independent part of that particular epic.

This unique position was undoubtedly the result of Smith overcoming his disadvantaged social circumstance with an indomitable will to shape an independent destiny in art. Born in 1906 into a hardscrabble farm family of nine siblings, in what was then called the Oklahoma Territory, Smith knew the realities of carving a living out of one’s bodily capacities. He grew up amongst remnants of the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes that had been dislocated to the territory a century before by the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Smith’s parents were of Cherokee heritage, and he identified with his neighbors closely, in experiences that would later resurface, in related formal permutations, in his mature artworks……

Read full review at The Brooklyn Rail

Visit the exhibition at the Lisson Gallery: Leon Polk Smith: 1940 – 1961. New York, 11 January – 17 February 2024

The Leon Polk Smith exhibition features paintings, works on paper, and design. It includes selections from our own Leon Polk Smith Collection, numbering 756 works on paper. The Leon Polk Smith Foundation gifted this collection to us in 2015. The design objects come from our George R. Kravis II Collection of fine art and design, which we received in 2018. A select number of paintings will be borrowed from institutions and private collections.

OSU Museum of Art

Leon Polk Smith: Affinities in Art & Design
August 1, 2023 – January 27, 2024

Constellation Twelve Circles, 1969
Museum Haus Konstruktiv – Selnaustrasse 25, 8001 Zurich, Switzerland.

This solo exhibition is the first institutional retrospective in Europe of Leon Polk Smith in over twenty years, and the first ever in a Swiss museum. Shown on four floors and largely in chronological order, it combines paintings and works on paper from almost all creative phases of Smith’s career from the mid-1940s to the late 1980s.

The show is accompanied by a catalog published by Hatje Cantz in German and English, with texts by Sabine Schaschl (director of Museum Haus Konstruktiv), Brandon Taylor (professor emeritus for art history at the University of Southampton, UK), Margit Weinberg Staber ( Art publicist and first director of the Museum Haus Konstruktiv) and David M. Roche (director of the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona). The catalog will be available starting in April 2023.

Installation view, Brooklyn Abstraction: Four Artists, Four Walls, Brooklyn Museum, on view August 12, 2022 - August 6, 2023. (Photo: Danny Perez, Brooklyn Museum)

Installation view, Brooklyn Abstraction: Four Artists, Four Walls, Brooklyn Museum, on view August 12, 2022 – August 6, 2023. (Photo: Danny Perez, Brooklyn Museum)

Brooklyn Abstractions: Four Artist, Four Walls
August 12, 2022 – August 6, 2023

This installation of works by Maya Hayuk, José Parlá, Kennedy Yanko, and the late Leon Polk Smith—four artists with strong connections to Brooklyn—creates a dynamic environment through four distinct, visually immersive experiences.

Two works on paper by Leon Polk Smith

Leon Polk Smith: 1945-1962
Palm Springs Art Museum. Palm Springs, California

March 26, 2022 – August 28, 2022

This exhibition presents the work of the innovative painter, Leon Polk Smith (1906-1996), whose significant contributions to twentieth-century art are becoming increasingly recognized. This presentation focuses on paintings and works on paper from the 1950s when Smith’s mature style began to flourish. Using a vocabulary of brilliant colors and simple, minimal forms, he challenged some of the most fundamental conventions of painting by dissolving the distinction between foreground and background and freeing his paintings from the boundaries of a rectangular format.

Self-Identifying as partially Cherokee, Smith grew up and worked on his family’s farm in Oklahoma. At age twenty-seven, Smith became fascinated by art, enrolled in a painting class during his senior year in college and decided to become an artist. In 1952, at age forty-six, Smith moved full time to New York City. Soon afterwards, his groundbreaking paintings attracted the attention of art dealers and several ambitious young abstract artists. Though Smith was never as widely recognized as some of his peers, he was a pioneer of “Hard-Edge Painting,” a movement characterized by clean, unvarying, sharply refined fields of color.

Leon Polk Smith: 1945-1962 is an expanded version of Leon Polk Smith: Big Form, Big Space, curated by Nigel Prince and organized by the Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver.

The Palm Springs Art Museum presentation is curated by Adam Lerner, JoAnn McGrath Executive Director/CEO.
Special thanks to The Leon Polk Smith Foundation.

This season’s exhibitions are sponsored by the Herman & Faye Sarkowsky Charitable Foundation and Yvonne & Steve Maloney (in memoriam).

Visit PSAM

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(left banner image) Leon Polk Smith (American, 1906-1996), untitled, 1957, paper on paper (embossed), 25 5/8 x 19 3/4 inches. © Leon Polk Smith Foundation, L2021.43.17. Photograph by Adam Reich.

(right banner image) Leon Polk Smith (American, 1906-1996), untitled, 1957, paper on paper, 26 x 20 inches. © Leon Polk Smith Foundation, L2021.43.18. Photograph by Adam Reich.

Photo of the book 'Leon Polk Smith - Prarie Moon'

Photo of a few inside pages from the book "Prairie Moon" with artwork by Leon Polk Smith
This fully-illustrated catalogue was published to accompany the recent exhibition Leon Polk Smith: Prairie Moon at Lisson Gallery in New York (September – October 2021). Edited by art historian, curator and writer Lynn Zelevansky, it features new scholarship by Zelevansky; Elizabeth Buhe, a twentieth- and twenty-first-century art scholar; and a reproduction of a 1968 essay by the legendary critic Lawrence Alloway. Representing three generations, these diverse perspectives provide a rich and complex discussion on the artist’s legacy, and unprecedented insight to his career.

Available for Purchase at Lisson Gallery 

The Contemporary Art Gallery presents the first solo exhibition in a public gallery in Canada by American artist Leon Polk Smith (1906-1996). Focusing on paintings and works on paper from the 1950s, the exhibition charts a critical moment in Smith’s artistic career in which the signature visual language of his work began to manifest, reflective both of prevalent trends of the time and an increasing engagement with the contexts of his upbringing and identity.

Leon Polk Smith: Hiding in Plain Sight

The Heard Museum of Art in Phoenix, Arizona is planning a solo Smith show that will include works from the 1930s to the 1990s. It is focused around the Native American influences and affinities in Smith’s art. Born in Oklahoma Indian Territory Smith had parents who were each one-half Cherokee. He spoke Cherokee growing up and remained proud of his Native American heritage. This survey, the broadest survey of Smith’s art since the Brooklyn Museum’s 1995-96 retrospective

Leon Polk Smith: Hiding in Plain Sight Leon Polk Smith: Hiding in Plain Sight Leon Polk Smith: Hiding in Plain Sight

Virtual Art Talk

A Deeper Look at Leon Polk Smith’s Artistic Practice


News Coverage of the Heard Museum show “Hiding In Plain Sight”