From David Smith and the Transformation of American Sculpture:
In the Voltri factories David found a bounty of industrial objects – springs, bolts, nails, hooks, spikes, balls, discs, tongs, calipers, clouds, anvils, and wheels. Some of the objects were, in David’s words, “stopped in progress” or “in varying stages of finish.” Most were newly obsolete. In photographs they seem expectant even though they radiate an anxiety of rejection, function lost, promise betrayed. David generally lived with scrap metal for a while, letting it “cure,” before using it. In Voltri he had to work fast. He had a month before the show and the survival of the objects was at risk.
One of the factories has the stark grandeur of a pillaged or unfinished Early Christian church. With its huge arched portals and circular windows, the largest factory reminded me of the Baths of Caracalla or of the Roman aqueducts. In these spaces, no one, not even David, was big. How would he move through and settle into them without being overpowered by them? How could he do enough, make enough, be enough, to respond to the expectancies of an infinity of abandoned things? How would he contend with such quantities of history and desire?
He drew outlines on floors with chalk and arranged objects on the floor before raising them up and tack welding them to examine them upright. Some objects he changed, others he incorporated intact. What the object had been intended for seems a trace that can feel almost excruciating in its immediacy. At some point the sculptures would be moved outside, where they had to hold their own amid other industrial remnants.
For David the associations were overwhelming. Tracks reaching into the heart of the factory complexes evoked for him images of tracks along which enemies of the German state were deposited into concentration camps. “I felt the awe and the scared air, like one returning survivor after holocaust, and as I had felt, very young in Decatur, when I went through the window in my first abandoned factory.”