Minimalism and Post-Minimalism
Tony Smith considered his process to be intuitive, his work resting close to the unconscious and exploring themes of spirituality and presence in a synthesis of geometric abstraction and expressionism.
He studied painting at the Art Students League, New York (1934–36) and attended the New Bauhaus, Chicago (1937–38), before apprenticing with Frank Lloyd Wright (1938–39). For the following two decades, he worked professionally as an architect and held teaching positions at numerous institutions in New York and Vermont. In the early 1960s, Smith turned his focus to sculpture, with his architectural background informing one of his most radical innovations—having his work industrially fabricated. Widely recognized for his large-scale, modular works produced throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Smith was included in the seminal group exhibition Primary Structures at the Jewish Museum, New York, in 1966. His profound achievements in American sculpture have been honored with retrospectives of his work at The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1998); Institut Valencià d’Art Modern (2002); Menil Collection, Houston (2010); and Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2017).
Tony Smith (1912-1980) is best known for his abstract sculptures created in the 1960s and 1970s, each a unique fusion of modular geometric forms combined intuitively. Multilayered meaning embedded in the work stems from Smith’s wide-ranging passions, including the history of art and architecture, mathematics, science, and Asian philosophy, as well as the writings of James Joyce.
Smith’s career began at the Art Students League in the 1930s, like Jackson Pollock and other Abstract Expressionists who were his contemporaries and close friends. In 1937 he decided to pursue architecture, and enrolled at the New Bauhaus in Chicago where his teachers included László Moholy-Nagy, Alexander Archipenko, and Gyorgy Kepes. He left after one year, and in 1938-40 worked for Frank Lloyd Wright, beginning as a carpenter and rising to Clerk of the Works for the Ardmore project near Philadelphia, and then on several Usonian homes. From 1940 until the early 1960s Smith was an independent architectural designer. He realized more than nineteen private homes and other projects, but many of his plans, including a model Roman Catholic Church (1950), were never built.
Smith met and married the actress Jane Lawrence in 1943; they lived in Hollywood, California from 1943-45. He moved to Germany in 1953, joining Jane, who was there singing opera.
While in Germany, Smith completed the Louisenberg paintings, planned architectural projects, and developed new ideas, many of which affected his development in the next decade. Their daughter Chiara (Kiki) was born in Nurnberg in 1954; twins Beatrice (Bebe) and Anne (Seton) were born in South Orange, New Jersey, when the couple returned home in the summer of 1955.
Smith’s work came to prominence in the 1960s in the context of Minimal art. Free Ride (1962) was included in the landmark “Primary Structures” exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York City in 1966. In 1967 he had concurrent solo exhibitions at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, and at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; his work filled New York City’s Bryant Park, and the two-story crystallographic plywood construction Smoke was featured in “Scale as Content” at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
In 1998, the Museum of Modern Art mounted a major retrospective of his sculpture, architecture, and painting. In 2012, institutions around the world celebrated Smith’s 100th birthday with special exhibitions, including an outdoor installation in New York’s Bryant Park and a symposium at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art acquired the monumental sculpture Smoke in 2008, and in 2017 mounted a thematic exhibition highlighting this work.
Published interviews and statements, together with teaching at New York University (1946-50), Bennington College (1958-61), Hunter College (1962-74), and Princeton University (1975-77), enhanced Smith’s influence on a younger generation of artists and the postwar artworld.
Anthony Peter Smith, known as Tony Smith, was born on December 23, 1912, in South Orange, New Jersey. At age four he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Rather than be sent away for recovery, he was moved to a prefabricated room that his father built in their backyard, an experience often cited for being highly influential throughout Smith’s life. He studied briefly at Fordham University, Bronx, New York, before enrolling at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., from 1931 to 1932. Smith then returned home to work at his family’s factory and take night classes in painting, drawing, and anatomy at the Art Students League, New York.
In 1937 Smith followed his interest in International Style architecture by moving to Chicago, where he studied for one semester at the New Bauhaus School of Design before working as an assistant to Frank Lloyd Wright on his Usonian houses. By 1940 Smith had opened his own architectural firm while continuing to paint and draw (mostly geometric abstractions).
Through the 1940s and 1950s, Smith worked as an architect and taught at New York University; Cooper Union; Pratt Institute, Brooklyn (all in New York); and Bennington College, Vermont, while also traveling. During this time, he formed influential relationships with Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman. In 1959 Smith designed the space for an exhibition of Newman’s work at French & Company, a gallery in New York. Two of his final projects as an architect were a guesthouse and a gallery for the art dealer Betty Parsons. As a peer to the Abstract Expressionists, Smith explored similar themes of self, spirituality, and monumentality in all of his chosen expressive mediums.
In 1962, while teaching design at Hunter College, New York, and looking for an alternative to architecture, Smith had the form of a black wood file-box enlarged and produced in steel by a fabricator in Newark, New Jersey. He put this work, Black Box (1962), along with two more steel pieces and a number of plywood mock-ups painted with automobile underpaint, in the same backyard where he had been quarantined as a child, and had since raised a family of his own with the actress Jane Lawrence (they had three daughters, Beatrice, Seton, and Chiara [Kiki] Smith). After exhibiting massive, black-painted plywood and sheet-metal works at several sites across the country and internationally, Smith was featured on the October 1967 cover of Time with his plywood structure Smoke (1967).
Smith’s museum debut as a sculptor of large-scale, geometric sculpture was at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (1966), followed by a nationwide traveling exhibition that began at the A. D. White House Museum, Cornell University in Ithaca, New York (1968), and a New Jersey–based traveling show organized by the Newark Museum and New Jersey State Council on the Arts (1970). His first major group exhibition was Primary Structures at the Jewish Museum, New York (1966). He was also included in a Guggenheim International Exhibition, New York (1967); the Venice Biennale (1968); Documenta 4, Kassel, Germany (1968); Whitney Annual, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1966, 1970, and 1971); and Whitney Biennial, New York (1973). Until his death in December of 1980, he continued to exhibit internationally as well as teach. Smith’s first major posthumous retrospective was hosted by the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1998). This was followed by a survey at the Institut Valencià d’art modern (IVAM), Valencia, Spain (2002).
Books, Brochures, Catalogues
Ketcham, Christopher M. Tony Smith: Source, Tau, Throwback. New York: Pace Gallery, 2019.
Weather Permitting: 9th Bienal do Mercosul. Porto Alegre: Fundacao Bienal Artes Visuais do Mercosul, 2013.
Costello, Eileen. Jackson Pollock & Tony Smith: Sculpture. New York: Matthew Marks Gallery, 2012.
Lehnert, Christina Anna, Doris von Drathan, Gregor Stemmrich, and Friedriche Meschede. Kiki Smith, Seton Smith, Tony Smith. Bielefeld: Kerber Verlag, 2012.
Smith, Tony. Not an Object, Not a Monument. New York: Matthew Marks Gallery, 2007.
Chevrier, Jean-François. Art and Utopia: Restricted Action. Barcelona: Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, 2005.
Agee, William. Tracing Tony Smith’s Tau. New York: Hunter College Art Galleries, 2004.
Chavez, Anja. Infinite Possibilities: Serial Imagery in 20th Century Drawings. Wellesley: Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, 2004.
Davis, Stephen, and Jon Lutz. Moved. New York: Hunter College/Times Square Gallery, 2004.
Goldstein, Ann, ed. A Minimal Future? Art as Object 1958–1968. Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2004.
Hayes, Christa-Maria Lerm. Joyce in Art: Visual Art Inspired by James Joyce. Dublin: Royal Hibernian Academy, 2004.
von Drathen, Doris. Vortex of Silence: Proposition for an Art Crticism Beyond Aesthetic Categories. Milan: Edizioni Chata, 2004.
Storr, Robert. Tony Smith: Louisenberg. New York: Mitchell-Innes & Nash, 2003.
Brownstone, Gilbert, Adrian Dannatt, Eleanor Heartney, David Pagel, and Michael Rush. The Smiths: Tony, Kiki, Seton. Palm Beach: Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art, 2002.
de Baranano, Kosme, and Josep Salvador. Tony Smith. Valencia: Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, 2002.
Abstraction: The Amerindian Paradigm. Brussels: Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles; Valencia: Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, 2001.
Criqui, Jean-Pierre. Tony Smith For Series. New York: Matthew Marks Gallery, 2001.
Tony Smith: Paintings and Sculpture 1960–65. New York: Mitchell-Innes & Nash and Matthew Marks Gallery, 2001.
Tony Smith Paintings: A Survey of Early Works from the 1930’s and 40’s. Chicago: Robert Henry Adams Fine Art, 2001.
Pachner, Joan. Tony Smith: Stinger. New York: Paula Cooper Gallery, 1999.
Storr, Robert. Tony Smith: Architect, Painter, Sculptor. With additional essays by John Keenen and Joan Pachner. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1998.
Brenson, Michael. Tony Smith: Moondog. New York: Paula Cooper Gallery, 1997.
Criqui, Jean Pierre, and Samuel Wagstaff, Jr. Tony Smith. Humlebaek: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 1995.
Pachner, Joan, and Klaus Kertess. Tony Smith: A Drawing Retrospective. New York: Matthew Marks Gallery, 1995.
Criqui, Jean-Pierre, and Kosme Maria de Baranano. Tony Smith. Madrid: Galería Theo, 1992.
Meschede, Friedrich, and Joan Pachner. “Tony Smith: The Presence of Forms” and “Tony Smith: Architecture into Sculpture” in Tony Smith: Sculptures and Drawings, 1961–1969. Münster: Westfälisches Landesmuseum, 1988.
Friis-Hansen, Dana. Tony Smith: The Shape of Space. Cambridge: Bakalar Sculpture Gallery, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1987.
Nash, Steven A., ed. A Century of Modern Sculpture: The Patsy and Raymond Nasher Collection. New York: Rizzoli, 1987.
Smith, Tony. Tony Smith, Selected Sculptures: 1961-1973 Part 1. New York: Xavier Fourcade, Inc., Paula Cooper Gallery, and Margo Leavin Gallery, 1985.
Hobbs, Robert. Tony Smith: Paintings and Sculpture. New York: Pace Gallery, 1983.
Ashton, Dore. Sculpture on the Edge of Dreams. Princeton: Institute for Advanced Study, 1982.
Tony Smith: Ten Elements and Throwback. New York: Pace Gallery, 1979.
Green, Eleanor. Tony Smith: Painting and Sculpture. College Park: University of Maryland Art Gallery, 1974.
Lippard, Lucy. Tony Smith. New York: Harry N. Abrams; Stuttgart: Verlag Gerd Hatje,1972.
Lippard, Lucy, and Martin Friedman. Tony Smith: Recent Sculpture. New York: M. Knoedler & Company, 1971.
Livingston, Jane. “Thoughts on Art and Technology.” A Report on the Art and Technology Program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1967–1971. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1971.
Goossen, E. C. Nine Sculptures by Tony Smith. Newark: New Jersey State Council on the Arts, 1970.
Goossen, E. C. The Art of the Real: USA, 1948-1968. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1968.
Neu, Renée Sabatello. “Introduction.” Tony Smith. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1968.
Green, Eleanor. Scale as Content. Washington: Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1967.
Varian, Elayne H. Schemata 7. New York: Finch College Museum of Art/Contemporary Study Wing, 1967.
McShine, Kynaston. Primary Structures: Younger American and British Sculptors. New York: Jewish Museum,1966.
Wagstaff, Samuel, Jr. Tony Smith: Two Exhibitions of Sculpture. Hartford: Wadsworth Atheneum; Philadelphia: Institute of Contemporary Art,1966.
Ketcham, Christopher. “Tony Smith, Bryant Park, and Body Politics in John Lindsay’s New York,” Public Art Dialogue, November 2, 2017.
Cronan, Todd. “Why Architecture Matters As Art As Never Before: Le Corbusier, Tony Smith and the Problem of Use,” Nonsite.org, July 17, 2017.
Dunne, Susan. “Renovated Wadsworth Galleries Show Off Contemporary Collections,” Hartford Courant, January 18, 2015.
Vankin, Deborah. “Huntington acquires works by Tony Smith and Frederick Hammersley,” Los Angeles Times, December 17, 2013.
Ribas, João. “9th Mercosul Biennial,” Artforum, December 2013, 258-259.
Knight, Christopher. “Entering a ‘Maze’ of Illusion,” Los Angeles Times, November 8, 2013.
Hoberman, Mara. “Kiki, Seton, and Tony Smith,” Artforum, Summer 2013.
Vogel, Carol. “Back to Bryant Park,” The New York Times, March 8, 2013.
Provan, Alexander. “Ninth Bienal Do Mercosul,” Art in America, December 2012, 147-148.
Wei, Lilly. “Tony Smith,” Artnews, November 2012, 146-147.
Cembalest, Robin. “Jackson’s Other Actions: Pollock’s Sculptures Resurface,” Artnews, September 13, 2012.
Vogel, Carol. “…And Sculpture,” The New York Times, September 7, 2012.
Finkel, Jori. “Tony Smith’s monumental sculpture ‘Smoke’ will not disappear from LACMA; mutimillion-dollar purchase finalized,” Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2010.
“Tony Smith,” Palais, Summer 2009, 79.
Smith, Roberta. “Rounding Up the Usual Suspects,” The New York Times, February 15, 2008.
Vogel, Carol. “Monumental Gesture at Renovated Museum,” The New York Times, January 1, 2008.
Sommerstein, Rachael. “It Started with Arp,” Artnews, May 2007, 70.
Smith, Valerie. “Take Back the Site,” Artforum, September 2006, 161.
Muschamp, Herbert. “Sitegeist,” New York Times Design Magazine, October 9, 2005, 142–47.
Meyer, James. “No More Scale: The Experience of Size in Contemporary Sculpture,” Artforum, Summer 2004, 200-8.
Cohen, David. The New York Sun, June 17, 2004, 16.
Nadalman, Cynthia. “Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated),” Artnews, May 2004, 146.
Bois, Yves Alain. “Tony Smith at Mitchell-Innes and Nash,” Artforum, Summer 2003, 181-182.
Johnson, Ken. “Art In Review: Tony Smith; Louisenberg,” The New York Times, February 14, 2003, E45.
Douglas, Sarah. “Tony Smith at Mitchell-Innes and Nash,” The Art Newspaper, February 2003.
Caruso Corrigan, Joyce. “The Smith Mystery,” Artnet, December 20, 2002.
Camhi, Leslie. “A Family Affair,” Vogue, December 2002.
Morgan, Robert C. “In the Ether of Solids: Tony Smith,” Sculpture, December 2002, 43–47.
Bono, Ferran. “Sculpture Show Reflects Spare Style of Tony Smith,” El País, English edition with the International Herald Tribune, March 16, 2002, 8.
Glueck, Grace. “Tony Smith Paintings and Sculpture, 1960–65,” The New York Times, June 15, 2001, E34.
Naves, Mario. “A Minimalist Artist with a Modernist Bent,” New York Observer, June 11, 2001.
Pollack, Barbara. “Moondog Multiples,” Artnews, September 1999, 74.
Kalina, Richard. “Building Form,” Art in America, March 1999, 78–85, 129.
Senie, Harriet F. “Re-Approaching Tony Smith,” Sculpture, November 1998, 8-43.
Bois,Yve-Alain, and Jean Pierre Criqui, “Matters of Scale,” Artforum, November 1998, 86-91, 137.
Alberto, Alexander. “Tony Smith,” Artforum, September 1997, 122.
Glueck, Grace. “Geometry, Man’s and Nature’s,” The New York Times, May 9, 1997, C36.
von Drathen, Doris. “Away from Categories: An Alternative View of Tony Smith and Carl Andre,” Art Press, May 1997, 38-47.
Criqui, Jean-Pierre. “Tony Smith,” Artforum, April 1996, 102.
Kimmelman, Michael. “A Combustible Compound of Geometry and Intuition,” The New York Times, December 8, 1995, C27.
Criqui, Jean-Pierre. “T. Smith: Dedale, Architecte et Sculpteur,” L’architecture d’aujourd’hui, April 1993, 42–47.
“Smug on Canal Street,” Art in America, January 1989, 23.
Criqui, Jean-Pierre. “Trictrac pour Tony Smith,” Artstudio, Fall 1987, 17–21, 38–51.
Ellis, Stephen. “Tony Smith,” Art in America, February 1986, 125.
Firestone, Evan R. “James Joyce and the First Generation New York School,” Arts Magazine, June 1982, 116–21.
Tuchman, Phyllis. “Tony Smith: A Modern Master,” New Jersey Monthly, January 1981, 120–26.
Tuchman, Phyllis. “Tony Smith, Master Sculptor,” Portfolio, Summer 1980, 52-55
Kardon, Janet. “Janet Kardon Interviews Some Modern Maze-Makers.” Art International/The Art Spectrum, April/May 1976, 64–65.
Smith, Tony. “Statement by Sculptors,” Art Journal, Winter 1975/76, 126–29.
Green, Eleanor. “The Morphology of Tony Smith,” Artforum, April 1974, 54–59.
Lippard, Lucy. “Tony Smith: Talk about Sculpture,” Artnews, April 1971, 48–49, 68, 71–72.
Lippard, Lucy. “Escalation in Washington,” Art International, January 1968, 42-46.
Smith, Tony. “The Maze/ Tony Smith,” Aspen, Fall and Winter 1967.
Kramer, Hilton. “The Studio vs. the Street,” The New York Times, October 15, 1967, 23.
Halasz, Piri. “Master of the Monumentalists,” Time, October 13, 1967, Cover & 80-86.
Kramer, Hilton. “Sculpture: Three Big Ones,” The New York Times, October 7, 1967, 24.
Richard, Paul. “A Sculptor Weds Geometry to Wood,” The Washington Post, August 13, 1967.
Lippard, Lucy. “The Ineluctable Modality of the Visible,” Art International, Summer 1967, 24–26.
Baro, Gene. “Tony Smith: Toward Speculation in Pure Form,” Art International, Summer 1967, 27–31.
Fried, Michael. “Art and Objecthood,” Artforum, Summer 1967, 12–23.
Perreault, John. “New Concepts,” The Village Voice, May 25, 1967.
Glueck, Grace. “Walk-in Sculpture at Finch Museum,” The New York Times, May 13, 1967.
Rosenberg, Harold. “Defining Art,” The New Yorker, February 25, 1967, 99–109.
Kramer, Hilton. “Art: A Sculpture Show in Bryant Park,” New York Times, February 2, 1967.
Kozloff, Max. “Art,” The Nation, January 23, 1967, 125–26.
Burton, Scott. “Old Master at the New Frontier,” Artnews, December 1966, 52–55, 68–70.
Wagstaff, Samuel, Jr. “Talking with Tony Smith,” Artforum, December 1966, 14–19.
Morris, Robert. “Notes on Sculpture, Part II,” Artforum, October 1966, 21.
Interview and Personal Statements
Smith, Tony. Interview by Paul Cummings, transcript. Washington: Archives of American Art, August 22 and August 30, 1978.
“Statements by Sculptors: Tony Smith,” Art Journal 35 (Winter 1975–76): 128–129.
Lippard, Lucy. “Tony Smith: Talk about Sculpture,” Artnews, April 1971: 48–49, 68, 71-72.
Smith, Tony. “Project for a Parking Lot,” and “Conceptual Architecture,” Special issue, Design Quarterly 78/79 (1970): 64–66.
Smith, Tony. Interview by Renée Sabatello Neu. Tony Smith exhibition brochure. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1968.
Smith, Tony. Interview by Elayne H. Varian. Schemata 7 exhibition catalogue. New York: Finch College Museum of Art, 1967. Reprinted in Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, edited by Gregory Battcock, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995, 378–80.
Wagstaff, Samuel, Jr. “Talking with Tony Smith,” Artforum, December 1966, 14–19. Reprinted in Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, edited by Gregory Battcock, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995, 381–86; and in Tony Smith exhibition catalogue, Humlebaek: Louisiana Museum for Modern Art, 1995.
Ketcham, Christopher M. “Minimal Art and Body Politics in New York City, 1961-1975.” PhD dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Cambridge, MA: Masschusetts Institute of Technology, 2018.
Pachner, Joan. “Tony Smith: Architect, Painter, Sculptor.” PhD dissertation, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Dissertation Information Service, 1993.
Claassen, Garth Henry. “Tony Smith’s Sculpture: Five Morphological Paradigms.” PhD dissertation, Indiana University. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Dissertation Information Service, 1991.