MICHELANGELO complained about noise and marble dust in our profession," says Sculptor David Smith, "but I finish the day looking like a grease monkey." Sculptor Smith's complaint reflects the rise of a new phenomenon in the art world: a flood of wire and metal shapes that is turning many a sculptor's studio into something resembling a blacksmith's shop, where the oxyacetylene torch has replaced the hammer and chisel, a welder's mask the smock.

The result is a bewildering jumble of new forms and shapes—forged, soldered, puddled, riven and wrought—that can look as crude as...

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