Tony Smith


Tony Smith Biography


Anthony Peter Smith, known as Tony Smith, was diagnosed with tuberculosis at the age of four. 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 for a year at Georgetown University. 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).

During the 1940s and 1950s, Smith formed influential relationships with Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman. 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 painted with automobile underpaint, in the same backyard where he had been quarantined as a child.

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).