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September 23, 2012 would have been the one-hundredth birthday of Americanartist Tony Smith (1912-1980). Although he began in the arts as an architect, atthe age of fifty he turned his back on building to devote himself exclusively to the medium of sculpture. To celebrate this occasion, the Kunsthalle Bielefeld ispresenting a comprehensive retrospective of the work of this artist, whose daughters, Kiki and Seton Smith, are also artists and whose works exhibit subtle connections to their father’s work. A total of 120 works of art will be featured.
From 1961 until his death in 1980 Tony Smith created an extensive body of sculptural work, for which he remains famous to this day. During his lifetime he also worked as a painter, concentrating on non-figurative painting. These works are little known in Europe, even though the Louisenberg Series was produced here in Germany between 1954 and 1956. His most crucial avant-garde achievement was the creation of the first pure cube in art history, measuring 6 x 6 x 6 feet and made in 1962 out of welded sheet iron. In a conversation with Robert Morris, Smith explained the problems of the abstract sculpture, which was, for him, essentially a problem of scale and proportion. Asked why he did not make the cube, titled DIE, smaller or larger, he replied that he had not “wanted to make an object or a monument.”
Starting with geometrical, crystalline basic forms, Smith developed a formal vocabulary that brought forth series of large sculptures. There are, for instance, the “object-like” sculptures made of cardboard, black wood, or bronze, which served as models for “monumental” outdoor sculptures that are still being realized in the United States today. The Bielefeld show will be the first in Europe to present his architectural work prior to 1962, in the form of drawings and models from his estate. From 1941 onward Smith mainly built houses on private commissions, designed in the traditional New England country house style and revealing the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright, whose assistant Smith was from 1938 to 1939. The private homes testify to a kind of Modernism in architecture that also referred to—besides Wright—the Glass House by Philip Johnson in New Canaan (1949), and the Farnsworth House (1951) by Mies van der Rohe in Plano, Illinois. Hence, the Kunsthalle Bielefeld, designed by Johnson in the 1960s, is particularly suited for the presentation of Tony Smith’s work.
Kiki Smith (b. 1954) first became known for her exhibitions in New York in the early 1980s, radical examinations of the human (mainly female) body, and possible methods for depicting it. Her works increasingly took on a more narrative tone in the 1990s, as her sculptures began alluding to mythological and biblical figures. Smith works in a variety of disciplines, including sculpture, glass painting, printmaking, photography, and tapestry. This exhibition will feature three bronze or aluminum sculptures, a three-part tapestry, and drawings on glass manufactured in the Mayerhof Workshops in Munich.
Seton Smith (born in 1955) makes direct references to her father’s work. Very early on she began photographing architecture, resulting in the leitmotifs of houses, corridors, and windows. Unlike the Becher School so famous in Germany, her photography, characterized by moments of soft-focus, seems to relate more to the tradition of American Pictorialism. Her most recentphotographs are black-and-white landscapes. In conjunction with the exhibition, a catalogue containing an essay by Gregor Stemmrich on the oeuvre of Tony Smith, an essay by Doris von Draten on the work of Seton Smith, an essay by Christina Anna Lehnert on the body of work by Kiki Smith, and an essay by Friedrich Meschede on the development of public sculpture in the 1960s in the United States will be published (Kerber Publishing, 27 €). The exhibition is sponsored by the Kunststiftung NRW.