Palm Springs Art Museum Presents: Leon Polk Smith: 1945-1962 – March 26, 2022 – August 28, 2022

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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.

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”