Art: American Renaissance Man

In New York, a powerful retrospective of Saint-Gaudens

Since the end of the 18th century, America has produced any number of competent sculptors, even a few first-rate ones, but perhaps only two that brought authentic greatness to their own genres: David Smith and Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Smith's work was the climax of a tradition of open, sheet-metal sculpture that began in 1912 with Picasso's tin guitar; Saint-Gaudens, at the end of the 19th century, epitomized the academic tradition of public speech through bronze casting, whose roots wound back to Donatello and Verrocchio.

The idea that one was as good as the other would have seemed macaronic 20 years ago, when...

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