A baby's first smiles, unsmiling pediatricians insist, are merely mechanical preludes to burps. Similarly solemn reasoning has led many critics to assume that the smiles which characteristically wreathe the best of ancient sculpture were put there by artists who did not know how to carve a straight face. This assumption was being thoroughly discredited last week at the Birmingham Museum of Art. "The Archaic Smile," a show assembled by Museum Director Richard Howard, features dozens of works as controlled and haunting as the examples opposite.

Early Greek sculpture (before 500 B.C.) is distinguished by small, firm smiles of slowly awakening tenderness. So...

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