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Tony Smith (1912-1980), sculptor, architect and painter, is said to be the best known unknown in the contemporary world of American Art. Smith, a native of South Orange, New Jersey, attended night classes at the Arts Students League, New York, from 1933-1936 and studied architecture at the New Bauhaus, Chicago, from 1937-1938. He served as an architectural apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright from 1938-1940. Until 1960 Smith spent his time practicing as a relatively obscure architect and teaching at various universities. The decision to switch to sculpture came as a result of his dissatisfaction with the impermanence of his architecture and the limitations the medium imposed on his geometric style. Smith’s first and most famed pieces are Cigarette, 1961, Bryant Park ,New York, and Grasshopper, 1962, Detroit Institute of Art. Thus, the stage was set for Smith’s first one man show, a simultaneous opening in 1966 at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia.

Smith’s sculpture can be described as part of the Minimalist movement of the ‘60s, yet his works and philosophies at times transcend the movement. Minimal Art began as a movement in direct opposition to Abstract Expressionism. Abstract Expressionism is an exploitation of the artist’s total emotions while Minimalism is without personal expression. The objective of Minimal Art is to open the viewer to subjective experience in the present tense. By reducing elements to their simplest geometric shapes, the artist leaves his composition devoid of personal feeling and independent of past experience. True minimalistic works have no reference, they just exist. Smith’s “black box” sculptures lack personality in their geometric shaping yet the massive, romanesque blocks, in the majority of cases, suggest a sense of monumentality. Thus, Smith follows the minimalist precedent of neutral geometric forms, but steps outside its boundaries while clinging to his innate sense of classic monumentality.

Tony Smith

Map of Tony Smith Works

Work by this Artist

  1. Amaryllis