Tony Smith

Article excerpt

Tony Smith's sculpture Willy, 1962, and his series of drawings of the cube, in various states of monadic completeness, straddle the boundary between sculpture and architecture, stretching the limits of both. Willy exists in the space between them: more than figural in scale, it still measures itself by the figure; less than architectural in scale, it is quasi architectural in its monumentality. Even more disconcertingly, there is a discrepancy between our cognition and our perceptual experience of both Willy and the cube. We know them to be basically rational--the former is a construction of tetrahedral and octahedral modules--but they look irrational. The cube, cut in a seemingly arbitrary way, however much it suggests architectural function, looks absurd; Willy looks even more so--its radical change in appearance as we change point of view suggests a fundamental lack of coherence. The geometry of the module gets lost in the seemingly bizarre shuffle of perceptual contrasts, which also deny the validity of the module as a measure of scale. Abstraction at its most hermetic, Willy becomes what might be called a cabalistic construction.

One could say that Smith has made an uncannily expressive piece. It is certainly, as he said of his work in general, a great "departure from the Hellenistic standard of things." In fact, he apparently shared the Abstract Expressionist belief that the most powerful imagery is unconscious, and Willy certainly conveys a sense of primary process that makes it an evocative, as well as provocative, piece. …