Small works with big themes at Sculpture Center

"Everything is sculpture," Isamu Noguchi once said. But while that may be true in a broad sense, art is always a matter of psychological cookery. In order to be "art," an object must somehow sear into the mind.

The late sculptor David Davis was an artist who excelled in the careful, disciplined choices that such pre-paration requires, following the logic of his formal decisions in long series of intriguing objects. He explored the structural and visual properties of his often geometrically based ideas at monumental or miniature scale, fabricated from a variety of materials ranging from wood to marble and steel. Davis is best known for public sculptures writ large against the outdoor spaces they occupy at Progres-sive Insurance, the Free Clinic and the Jewish Community Center, among many others in Ohio and Florida.

The Sculpture Center's current show of Davis' studies and smaller-scale versions of his three-dimensional inventions makes for a less heroic but in some ways richer and more meditative experience. There is a sense of intimacy even in a highly wrought, polished brass work like "Harmonic Grid XXVI," which is about a quarter the size of his 1974 "Harmonic Grid XXV." That eight-foot-high, Corten-steel rendition of the same design is on permanent display at Youngstown's Butler Museum of American Art and keeps its audience at a distance, both because of its size and a forbidding, rusted finish. Other works at the show, like the small marble "Triumph" (1987), follow a far more organic notion of form, melting into space like domestic monuments to the warm balance of flesh and bone.

Davis emigrated to the U.S. with his family from Romania as a child. Like many important Cleveland artists, he received fine-arts training first at East Tech High School, followed by study at the Cleveland School of Art. After serving in the Army from 1942 until the end of World War II, he pursued painting at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and Switzerland. He received his BFA from the newly christened Cleveland Institute of Art in 1948, just a year after his marriage to Bernice Sapirstein, the daughter of the founder of American Greetings. In the 1960s, as he entered his late 40s, Davis realized his vocation as a sculptor, beginning a full-time, 34-year odyssey through materials and form. He and Bernice founded the Sculpture Center in 1989 and the adjacent Archives of the Western Reserve in 1996.

Because of his experience with large-scale steel projects, Davis was picked in 1976 to fabricate Isamu Noguchi's sculpture "Portal," now installed at Cleveland's Justice Center. The two men became good friends, meeting and corresponding often. Referring to Davis' considerable achievements in sculpture, Noguchi once remarked that it was "a great pity that this work isn't better known," a comment that unfortunately continues to be too true of this remarkable Clevelander's legacy. 

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