Tony Smith 1912 —1980


"My initials are A.P.S. (Anthony P. Smith). I used to kid about their meaning Architecture, Painting and Sculpture. But I wasn't kidding too much; it really felt that way."
— Tony Smith (1966)

Tony Smith was an American sculptor, visual artist, and a noted theorist on art.  He is primarily known for his influential Minimalist sculpture. Born in South Orange, New Jersey.into a family who owned a tool-making business.  As a child, Smith suffered from tuberculosis. To prevent the disease from spreading to his six siblings, he was quarantined in a one-room structure behind his parents' house and was cared for by a private nurse. He spent time building models from small medicine boxes. He later said, "The most important fact of my life was that I had TB at a very early age."

Privately tutored until high school, Smith graduated from a private Jesuit high school in New York City in 1930.  After briefly attending college, Smith returned home to help with the family business during the Depression. He took painting and drawing classes at the Art Student's League in New York and discovered modern literature—particularly James Joyce.

He trained as an architect and in 1939 began working for Frank Lloyd Wright and was introduced to Wright's module concrete blocks.  Smith became frustrated with architectural work as clients made changes to his designs. Smith had done some painting as a part-time student at the Art Students League of New York and became interested in sculpting in 1956 when he was age 44.  While recuperating from a serious car accident in 1961, Smith began making small cardboard models for three-dimensional sculptures. He focused on the tetrahedron and the cube.  

In 1962, Smith made his first steel sculpture called Black Box.  From there, he developed his geometric vocabulary in monumental sculptures that were first fabricated from plywood and covered with black automobile undercoating.  While many works were produced in steel and placed outdoors in urban plazas, many Tony Smith-sculptures remained in their maquette or inexpensive plywood forms.

His first exhibitions were in 1964. He is primarily known for his influential Minimalist sculpture.  Smith is considered a pioneer of the American Minimal art movement. He was asked to anchor the seminal 1966 show at the Jewish Museum in New York entitled Primary Structures. The article followed the seminal exhibition at the Jewish Museum in NYC Primary Structures where Smith’s work, among the group of works exhibited, was so outstanding.  Primary Structures April 27-June 12, 1966, was the landmark exhibition that defined the Minimalist movement.  Included in addition to Tony Smith were Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Mark di Suvero, and Carl Andre.    In 1967, Smith made the cover of Time magazine as "Master of the Monumentalists."

Allied with the minimalist school, Tony Smith worked with simple geometrical modules combined on a three-dimensional grid, creating drama through simplicity and scale. During the 1940s and 1950s Smith became close friends with Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still, and his sculpture shows their abstract influence.  Words that describe Smith’s sculpture are: monumental, grand, spiritual, anthropomorphic, elusive, exploring infinity, geometric, biomorphic, complex, simple, multifaceted.

Smith was also a teacher in various institutions including New York University, Cooper Union, Pratt Institute, Bennington College and Hunter College and was a leading sculptor in the 1960s and 1970s. Smith is considered a pioneer of the American Minimal art movement. He was asked to anchor the seminal 1966 show at the Jewish Museum in New York entitled, "Primary Structures."

Smith was asked to teach a sculpture course at the University of Hawaii in Manoa during the summer of 1969. He designed two unrealized works, Haole Crater(a recessed garden) and Hubris but eventually created The Fourth Sign that was sited on the campus. His Hawaii experience also generated fodder for his "For..." series whose initials are friends and artists he met during his time in Manoa. A major retrospective, "Tony Smith: Architect, Painter, Sculptor," was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1998.

Tony met his wife, opera singer, Jane Lawrence, in New York in 1943. They were married in Santa Monica with Tennessee Williams as his best man. He was the father of artists Chiara "Kiki" Smith, Seton Smith and the underground actress Bebe Smith (Seton's twin), who died in 1988.

In 1961, Smith was injured in a car accident and subsequently developed a blood condition which produces a large number of red blood cells called polycythemia. His health was always questionable and deteriorated until he succumbed to a heart attack at age 68.

Tony Smith works are in the permanent collections of many museums world wide including: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Baltimore Museum of Art; Boston Museum of Fine Arts; Dallas Museum of Art; Des Moines Art Center, Detroit Institute of the Arts; Harvard University Art Museum; High Museum of Art Atlanta GA; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Hunter College, New York; Kentucky Center for the Arts; Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands; Los Angeles County Museum of Contemporary Art, Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester; Middlebury College Museum of Art; Museum of Modern Art NY;National Gallery of Art (major work at the entry to the East Wing); New Orleans Museum of Art; Portland Art Museum; Princeton University of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SF MOMA); Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art, Shizuoka Jaopan; Smithsonian American Art Museum; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Stanford University Art Museum; St. Louis Art Museum; The Cleveland Museum of Art; The Empire State Collection; The Menil Collection, Houston; The Nasher Collection, Dallas;  The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; The Newark Museum; The Toledo Museum of Art; The University of Michigan Museum of Art; University of Pittsburgh; Whitney Museum of American Art and Yale University Art Museum.

An important source for modern and contemporary American & European Art in East Hampton, New York & worldwide, Janet Lehr Fine Arts' spectacular wide-ranging inventory consists of unique paintings, drawings, large & small scale sculpture, monotypes, prints and photographs  by Ansel Adams, Milton Avery, Richard Avedon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Romare Bearden, Fernando Botero, Cartier-Bresson, Marc Chagall, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Willem De Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn, Thomas Eakins, Childe Hassam, David Hockney, Winslow Homer, Wolf Kahn, Jeff Koons, Fernand Leger, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Thomas Moran, Henry Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, Cindy Sherman, Charles Sheeler, Bert Stern, Alfred Stieglitz, Andy Warhol, Carleton E Watkins, Tom Wesselmann and Andrew Wyeth.

To bookmark Janet Lehr Fine Arts Gallery website:

View synoptic biography below.


Oil on canvas

47 x 59 inches
Titled and dated on the verso

Tony Smith sculptures are in an enormous numbers of public collections and public spaces world wide. Sites include:

United States

- Free Ride, 1962, Clos Pegase Winery, Calistoga
- Fermi, 1973, South Coast Plaza Town Center, Costa Mesa
- For J.C., 1969, Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
- Smoke, 1967/2005, Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
- Willy(maquette), 1969, Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
- Die (full scale maquette), 1967, Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach
- Throwback 2/3, 1976-77, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco
- Spitball, 1961, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco
- For D.G 2/6, 1969, Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University, Stanford
- For J.W. 2/6, 1969, Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University, Stanford

- Untitled, 1967, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven
- For D.G. 1/6, 1969, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven
- For P.N. 2/6, 1969, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven District of Columbia
- Moondog, 1998-99, National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden,

- The Snake is Out AP, 1962, National Gallery of Art - East, Washington
- Wandering Rocks 4/5, 1967, National Gallery of Art - East, Washington
- Die 2/3, 1962, National Gallery of Art, Washington
- Throwback 3/3, 1978-79, Hirschhorn Sculpture Garden, Washington
- She Who Must Be Obeyed (maquette), 1975, Luce Foundation Center, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington
- She Who Must Be Obeyed, 1975, Frances Perkins Federal Building, Washington

- Throwback, 1976-79, The Marguiles Collection at the WAREhOUSE, Miami

- The Keys to. Given! 1/3, 1965, High Museum of Art, Atlanta

- The Fourth Sign, 1976-77, University of Hawaii campus, Honolulu

- Marriage, 1961, Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines
- We Lost, 1962, Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines

- Gracehoper 2/3, 1971, Kentucky Center for the Arts, Louisville

- Lipizzaner, 1976-78, New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans
- Lipizzaner (maquette), 1976-78, New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans

- Spitball 3/3, 1961, Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore
- Smug, 1967/1973, Glenstone Museum, Potomac

- For Marjorie, 1961-77, MIT campus, Cambridge
- Throwback (study), 1976-79, Harvard University Art Museum, Cambridge
- Stinger, 1967-68, Arts on the Point, UMass, Boston
- For V.T., 1969, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

- Spitball 50/50, 1970, University of Michigan Art Museum, Ann Arbor
- Gracehoper 1/3, 1971, Detroit Institute of the Arts, Detroit
- Spitball, 1970, Detroit Institute of the Arts, Detroit
- For J.W., 1969, Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids

- Free Ride 2/3, St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis

- Willy, 1962, University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus

New Jersey
- Moses, 1969, Princeton University campus, Princeton
- Moses (model), 1967-68, Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton
- New Piece 2/3, 1966, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
- For J.C., 1969, Newark Museum, Newark
- For J.C. (maquette), 1969, Newark Museum, Newark
- 81 More (model), Kean College of New Jersey, Union
- TAU,1962,Meadowland Park[the Lennie Pierro Memorial Arts Foundation, South Orange Village and the Estate of Tony Smith], South Orange, NJ

New York
- The Snake is Out 1/3, 1962, Empire State Plaza, Albany
- Cigarette 1/3, 1961, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo
- Die, 1962, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
- Cigarette (maquette), 1973, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
- Cigarette 2/3, 1961, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
- Free Ride 3/3, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
- Amaryllis AP, 1965, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
- Tau 1/3, 1961-62, Hunter College, New York
- For W.A. 1/6, 1969, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
- Die 1/3, 1962, The Whitney Museum of Art, New York
- One-Two-Three 1/3, 1976, The Whitney Museum of Art, New York
- Duck 1/3, 1962, Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Garden, Pepsico Co., Purchase
- Playground, 1962-66, Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester, Rochester

- For P.C. 2/6, 1969, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland
- Source 1/3, 1967, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland
- Last, 1979, Frank J. Lausche State Office Building, Cleveland
- Spitball 2/3, 1961, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland

- Night, 1962, Haverford College, Haverford
- We Lost 1/3, 1962, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
- Light Up, 1971, Hillman Library, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh

- Willy, 1978, Dallas Museum of Art courtyard, Dallas
- For Dolores/Flowers for the Dead/Flores para los muertos, 1973-75, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas
- One-Two-Three 2/3, 1976, Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas
- The Snake is Out 3/3, 1962, Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas
- Ten Elements 2/3, 1975-79, Raymond Nasher Estate, Dallas
- The Elevens Are Up 1/3, 1963, Loretto Park, The Menil Collection, Houston
- Wall 1/3, 1964, Loretto Park, The Menil Collection, Houston
- New Piece 1/3, 1966, Loretto Park, The Menil Collection, Houston
- The Snake is Out 2/3, 1962, Menil Collection, University of Texas, Houston
- Asteriskos/Little Star, 1968, Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum, San Antonio
- Amaryllis, 1965, "Landmarks" public art project, University of Texas, Austin

- Smog, 1969-70, McCardell Bicentennial Hall, Middlebury College, Middlebury Virginia
- Untitled, 1966, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond

- Stinger/One Gate 1/3, 1967-1968(wood), 1999(steel), Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle
- Wandering Rocks AP, 1967, Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle

- Wandering Rocks 2/5, 1967, The Bradley Family Foundation Sculpture Garden, Milwaukee



- Black Box, 1962, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa


- Amaryllis 3/3, 1965, Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art, Shizuoka


- Wandering Rocks 5/5, 1967, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo


- Marriage 1/3, 1961, Oslo

Other Works

- Throne, 1956
- Cross, 1960-62
- Light Box 9 cast, 1961
- Beardwig, 1962
- Tower of Winds, 1962
- Memphis, 1962-63
- Mistake 9 cast, 1963
- Generation, 1965
- Arm, 1968 (destroyed)
- Seed, 1968
- Trap 9 cast, 1968
- Trunk, 1968 (destroyed)
- For D.C., 1969
- For M.S., 1969
- 81 More, 1970, (destroyed)

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