Tony Smith

Tony Smith was a leader in the Minimalist movement of the 1960s and is known for his monumental, geometric, often matte black sculptures. Smith was born in 1912 in South Orange, New Jersey and had a number of formative experiences in his childhood that would shape his aesthetic principles; diagnosed with tuberculosis, Smith was quarantined to a small, solitary shelter outside of the main home, where he spent many hours alone, drawing and building modular structures with his medication boxes. Once in better health, his family took him on a trip to Taos, New Mexico, where he was deeply affected by the simple and austere forms of pueblos. Smith worked in his family’s factory as a young man, taking night classes at the Art Students League in New York City and in 1937 he moved to Chicago to study architecture at the New Bauhaus School of Design. He worked for Frank Lloyd Wright from 1938 to 1939 and established his own firm in New York City in 1940, working as an architect well into the 1960s, while also aligning himself with the abstract expressionist scene through his geometric paintings. While teaching at Hunter College in 1962, Smith created his first sculpture, Black Box and in 1966, had his first show of these large-scale, industrially-produced works at the Wadsworth Atheneum in 1966. That same year, his work was included in the seminal exhibition Primary Structures at the Jewish Museum in New York City. Smith continued to teach into the 1970s at New York University, Cooper Union and Pratt Institute, while creating increasingly larger and more complex public works that explored themes of the self, spirituality and monumentality. Smith passed away in 1980 and is survived by his daughter, artist Kiki Smith.

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