Tony Smith Timeline


Tony Smith Born
Tony Smith is born on September 23, 1912, in South Orange, New Jersey. He is the second of seven children born into a prosperous Irish Catholic family. His father, Peter Smith, is the owner of the AP Smith Manufacturing Company, founded in the 1800s by Tony’s grandfather.

Photo: AP Smith Manufacturing Company


Smith is diagnosed with tuberculosis. Isolated from school and family, he spends most of his younger years in a shelter in the backyard of his family home attended by a personal nurse. 


Smith commutes to St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit high school in Manhattan. Smith is exposed to the art his mother buys for the family home, as well as to new artists such as George Luks and John Sloan.

Photo: St. Francis Xavier, New York, NY


Smith graduates from Xavier in 1931, attends Fordham University for one year, and Georgetown University for two years. He manages a bookstore in South Orange and later joins his father’s business where he works as a toolmaker, draftsman and purchaser.

Photo: Fordham University, New York, NY


He takes his first formal art classes at the Art Students League of New York, while working at his family’s factory during the day. He takes drawing, painting and anatomy classes and studies under George Grosz, Vaclav Vytacil and George Bridgeman. He is especially influenced by Vytacil who teaches Smith that both positive and negative space should be given equal consideration on the canvas.

Photo: Untitled, oil and pencil


Smith studies architecture at the New Bauhaus in Chicago. He becomes head of the metal workshop there.

Photo: New Bauhaus School, Chicago, Illinois


Smith leaves the New Bauhaus because of a creative disagreement and returns to New Jersey. He is both confused and depressed. His father refuses to fund his artistic pursuits. Laurence Cureno, a friend from the Bauhaus, brings Smith to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ben Rebhuhn House in Great Neck, Long Island. Inspired, he takes a job on a Wright project site in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. He begins as a carpenter’s helper and advances to bricklayer. He connects architecture, engineering and drafting and learns the trade by “trying it” on this project.


Smith moves to an apartment in Greenwich Village, New York City. He lives near friends Fritz Bultman, Sydney McFadden and Gerome Kamrowsky and immerses himself in the New York art world. Smith meets Jackson Pollock and Tennessee Williams through Bultman and later becomes friends with them.

In 1942, Smith begins the complex and ambitious architectural project, the Brotherton House, which uses a hexagonal grid as the form.

Photo: Brotherton House


Through Bultlman, Smith meets Jane Lawrence. After a five-day courtship, Smith proposes marriage, and nine months later they marry in Santa Monica, California. Tennessee Williams acts as best man. The couple moves to Hollywood to pursue Jane’s career in opera. Smith produces “The Pattern of Organic Life in America,” his unpublished account of his artistic ideals that informs his later work.

Photo: Tony Smith, Jane Smith, Tennessee Williams


Smith moves back East to design and construct a studio for Bultman in Provincetown, Massachusetts. He meets Frederick Kiesler who introduces Smith to galleries including the Art of this Century Gallery, Peggy Guggenheim’s pioneering endeavor.

The Smiths move back to New York City and Tony reconnects with Jackson Pollock, developing friendships with other Abstract Expressionists, especially Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still.

Photo: Bultman Studio, Provincetown, Massachusetts


From 1946-1950 Smith teaches at New York University’s School of Education. Rothko gives Smith his Eighth Street studio to use as a classroom for his NYU students. He also teaches at Cooper Union and Pratt Institute of Art from 1951-1952. He emphasizes abstraction as a form unto itself and encourages his students to stress the three-dimensionality of painting.

from 1946-50, Smith continued to produce architectural projects, and preferred to call himself a “builder.”

Photo: Stamos House


The Smiths move to Heidelberg, Germany, to pursue Jane’s career in opera. Smith travels in Germany, Italy and France, seeing both modern and classical art and architecture. He paints the Louisenberg Series, based on a grid with circular shapes contained within a pattern. Chiara, his first daughter, is born in Nuremburg in 1954.

Photo: Louisenberg Series


Twins Seton and Beatrice are born in July of 1955 in South Orange, NJ. The Smiths live at his family home there. Smith returns to teaching at Pratt and NYU, and begins teaching at Bennington College (1958-1961). He ceases all architectural work and turns toward sculpture. He creates his first sculpture, Throne (1956), as a demonstration to his students of the advantages of the tetrahedral shape over right-angled structures.

Photo: Tony Smith, Sculptor and Professor


Smith begins teaching at Hunter College in New York City (1962-1980). In 1961 he has an automobile accident which leaves him seriously impaired an in declining health. He produces his most celebrated works in the early 1960s, a series of sculptures based on the tetrahedral module. In 1961, Smith creates Cigarette, his first environmental piece, which invites the viewer to fully interact with it.

He makes Block Box, his first steel sculpture in 1962, which derives from an index card file box that sits on the desk of a colleague. Free Ride and Die, both made later that year, directly evolve from Black Box.

In 1962, Smith also creates Beardwig, Duck (1962) and conceives Tau.
Photo: Black Box


Smith shows his sculptures to the public for the first time. Curator Samuel Wagstaff chooses Elevens Are Up (1963) for the exhibition “Black, White and Grey” at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut.


Free Ride is shown at the Jewish Museum in New York in the “Primary Structures” show. Wagstaff curates Smith’s first one-man show, “Tony Smith: Two Exhibitions of Sculpture.” In the catalogue essay, Wagstaff calls Smith one of the “best unknown artists in American art.”

Photo: Free Ride

Smith receives the Longview Foundation Art Award and the National Council of the Arts Award.

Photo: Tony Smith. Credit: David Gahr.


Eight Smith sculptures are shown in the “Sculpture in Environment” exhibition in Bryant Park in New York City. Maze (1969) is included in “Schemata 7” at the Finch College Museum of Art. The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis hosts Smith’s second one-man show. His works are exhibited in Germany, Switzerland and France.

The seminal piece Smoke is included in “Scale as Content: Ronald Bladen, Barnett Newman, Tony Smith,” at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Time Magazine features Smith and his sculpture Smoke on the cover of the October, 1967, issue.

Photo: Installation of Smoke


Smith teaches at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu for the summer. He designs Haole Crater for the University. The one man exhibition, “Seven Sculptures by Tony Smith” is organized by four major museums in Smith’s home state of New Jersey. In 1971 he receives a fine arts medal from the American Institute of Architects.

Photo: Kiki, Beatrice, Seton Assembling Models in Their Dining Room

In the late 1960s Smith designs four major projects based on the tetrahedral module. Each completely distinct project displays the magnitude and maturation of his art. They are: Hubris (1969), a public site-specific work intended for the campus of the University of Hawaii; Batcave, an immense indoor piece for Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan; a public water garden; and an enormous three-dimensional addition to a naturally occurring fissure in a mountain in California.

In the 1970s, Smith’s work is exhibited in group exhibitions in the US and abroad. It is featured in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Annual Exhibition three years in a row, and in the extensive survey show “200 years of American Sculpture.”

Photo: Smith with Model of Bat Cave


Smith takes a brief leave from Hunter College to teach at Princeton University. He returns to Hunter a year before his death in 1980.


Smith creates One-Two-Three, a work that explores Smith’s notion of mathematical continuance within sculpture. Each individual piece is derived from the previous one. He makes Throwback (1977), thought to be one of his most figurative works, and an untitled sculpture based on a series of Five C’s.

In 1978, “Tony Smith: Models and Drawings” is featured at the Montclair State Museum in New Jersey. The exhibion, “Tony Smith: Ten Elements and Throwback,” is shown at Pace Gallery in New York City.

Photo: One-Two-Three


A wooden mock-up of Tau is created and exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in the “Twenty American Artists” show in late 1980.

Smith dies of a heart attack at the age of 68 in December, 1980.


Tau is installed at Hunter College’s West Plaza at 68th Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan on September 8, 1984. It is Smith’s first public sculpture to be installed permanently in New York City.