American sculptor Tony Smith has long been considered a forerunner of minimalist sculpture, due in part to his early, predominately cubic pieces like Black Box and Die (both 1962)....
American sculptor Tony Smith has long been considered a forerunner of minimalist sculpture, due in part to his early, predominately cubic pieces like Black Box and Die (both 1962). Following a 1998 Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, his works from the late 1960s have undergone reconsideration, for their re-conceptualization of a sculpture's relation to space. Traditionally, sculpture has been regarded as a self-contained entity distinct from the space it was surrounded by. Smith’s spatial matrices, however, were conceived in relation to “a continuous space grid” in which “voids are made up of the same components as the masses.” In this light, “explained Smith, the sculptures “may be seen as interruptions in an otherwise unbroken flow of space. If you think space as solid, they are voids in that space.”
Smoke was one of the largest sculptures ever conceived by the American artist. It soars twenty-four feet high and extends forty-eight feet in length yet, despite its monumental scale, seems to rise and swell “like the skeleton of a cloud”. The structure reflects the artist's lifelong exploration of the “pattern of organic life,” and is comprised of close-packed hexagons (like honeycomb), each supported by a triad of columns with tetrahedral capitals.
The title Smoke seemed appropriate to Smith because of the complex spaces created by the piece, in which its logic disappeared, like smoke.”
Smoke was displayed previously in 1967(a painted wood version) at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, in the exhibition “Scale as Content”, where it filled one of the grand street level galleries of the museum. Due to high fabrication costs, the sculpture was never fabricated in metal. This sculpture was fabricated in 2005, fulfilling the artist's widow's wish to have all of her husband's works completed in her lifetime. (Jane Smith passed away in August of 2005.)
The Corcoran installation of Smoke earned Smith the cover of Time magazine with the caption “Art Outgrows the Museum.” While its large scale certainly challenged conventional notions of sculpture (and verged on being architectural), Smoke was a success precisely because of its relation to the interior space. Installed in the atrium of the Ahmanson Building the piece soars and fills the museum space, while at the same time provides a frame of reference to visitors on the plaza level who can enjoy it from a different vantage point. Smoke was the only large-scale work Smith ever created specifically for an interior space.
Critics at the time commented on the sculpture’s openness and sense of expansion “that allows space to flow, to suggest a sculptural infinity, a freedom of means not hitherto permitted by geometric sculpture.” The artist himself offered this ebullient review: “Don't you love it? It's crazy. It strikes me as one of the most profound things I've ever seen. It's so serene.” Smoke is the first major Tony Smith to enter a museum collection on the West Coast. Stephanie Barron, Senior Curator, Modern Art (2011)