Tony Smith

By Alberro, Alexander | Artforum International, September 1997 | Go to article overview

Tony Smith


Alberro, Alexander, Artforum International


PAULA COOPER GALLERY

Tony Smith's Moondog, 1964, consists of extended polyhedral columns (the "legs" are octahedral; the top, tetrahedral) assembled in a structure that, according to the artist, "relates to Japanese and Korean lanterns." Though Smith envisioned it at its current size - approximately seventeen feet high - the piece was originally three feet tall and only realized in its full scale after Smith's death. Moondog is an elaborate, almost labyrinthine combination of form and volume; internal and external elements are fused in complex geometric configurations. Unlike most of Smith's earlier pieces, which tended to be rectangular, Moondog cannot be apprehended in its entirety from any single vantage point. It appears frontal, but multiply so; planar, but volumetrically changeable (the bevel edges emphasize volume over plane, and lead the eye easily around the corners of the polyhedrons). From one angle, the intricate network of tetrahedrons and elongated octahedrons seems animalized, evoking a dog squatting back on its haunches or the one in Joan Miro's painting Dog Barking at the Moon, 1926. Yet Moondog's open lattice form, faceted planes, and crystalline structure change dramatically as one moves through the three-legged columnar formation; the eye is constantly led toward new configurations. Each viewpoint is independent of the last, offering new geometrical vistas before the previous ones are forgotten, but there is no logic to the sequence of viewing. Indeed, the difficulty in comprehending the structure and interpreting its composition seems central to this piece.

Smith's work has often been subsumed under the category of Minimal art, due largely to quintessentially Minimalist works such as Die and The Black Box (both 1962) but also to the fact that, like many Minimalists, he had his work fabricated. But Moondog, with its unpredictable lines and the rotating motion of its polyhedral forms, is more baroque than Minimal. Indeed, there is a play between the structure's gestalt and its changing configurations in space that is evident not only as one walks around the sculpture but from its position in the gallery. …

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