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Luce Foundation Center for American Art

Sculpture: 20th century: She Who Must Be Obeyed




Tony Smith

(born South Orange, NJ 1912 -- died New York City 1980)

As a child, Tony Smith was bedridden with tuberculosis. Spending some years isolated from his sister and five brothers, Smith entertained himself by making Pueblo villages from the small boxes his medicines came in. Smith decided to pursue art seriously after his sophomore year of college, withdrawing from Georgetown University to attend night classes in New York. He spent a year studying architecture at the New Bauhaus in Chicago and landed a job helping Frank Lloyd Wright develop low-cost housing. For the next twenty years, he was a practicing architect but also taught art and design and maintained friendships with artists such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. Smith grew frustrated with his architecture clients and turned toward expressive painting. After a serious car accident in 1961, the artist returned to his childhood practice of making small cardboard models. These small maquettes motivated Smith to focus his efforts on larger sculptures for the remainder of his career. Smith drew inspiration from nature and believed that pure geometric forms could convey the underlying order of the world.