Left: Tony Smith’s Amaryllis (1965) outside the Wadsworth Atheneum for the exhibition “Tony Smith: Two Exhibitions of Sculpture,” 1966. Right: Tony Smith, Amaryllis (1965), reinstalled at the Wadsworth Atheneum, 2012

Tony Smith at 100

To commemorate the 100th birthday of renowned painter, sculptor and architect Tony Smith, the museum reinstalled the artist’s newly conserved, large-scale sculpture Amaryllis, 1965, in front of its Morgan Memorial building along Main Street on November 19, 2012. Smith’s daughters, Kiki and Seton Smith—who are established artists in their own right—asked art museums throughout the world to join them in celebrating their father’s legacy by highlighting specific works by him during the 2012–13 exhibition year. Amaryllis remains in front of the building today.

Tony Smith and the Wadsworth Atheneum

Installation view of the exhibition Black, White, and Gray in Avery Court at the Wadsworth Atheneum, 1964. Tony Smith’s The Elevens Are Up, 1963, is the black sculpture visible in the background.

The museum was instrumental in launching Tony Smith’s career as a sculptor and Smith was equally important to the history of the museum’s contemporary art collection and groundbreaking contemporary program.

  • The first public presentation of Smith’s sculpture—a work titled The Elevens Are Up, 1963—was in Wadsworth curator Sam Wagstaff’s seminal minimalist exhibition Black, White, and Gray in 1964.
  • Tony Smith: Two Exhibitions of Sculpture of 1966 and 1967 was the artist’s first one-man museum show. Co-organized by the Wadsworth’s Sam Wagstaff and the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania’s Samuel Green, the two exhibitions overlapped. Kiki Smith noted, “The exhibition at the [Wadsworth Atheneum] was probably the most influential on [Tony Smith’s] work entering the consciousness of the art world.”
  • The Wadsworth’s presentation of Tony Smith: Two Exhibitions featured sculpture inside and outside, including Amaryllis, 1965, which was placed outside the original Wadsworth building and purchased for the collection in 1967.
  • In 1967 Smith donated his personal collection of seven major mid-century abstract paintings to the Wadsworth, including works by close friends Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko.

    Jackson Pollock, Number 9, 1949. Oil on canvas; 44 ¼ x 34 in., 1967.15: Clyfford E. Still, Number 5, 1951. Oil on canvas; 55 x 46 in., 1967.18; Barnett Newman, Onement II, 1948. Oil on canvas; 60 x 36 in., 1967.14; Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1949. Oil on canvas; 54 1/2 x 35 1/4 in., 1967.16. Gifts of Tony Smith.

  • Both Tony Smith and Sam Wagstaff were members of the committee that developed the Wadsworth’s groundbreaking MATRIX program in 1975; Smith came up with the name “MATRIX,” placing emphasis on its definition as “a space within which something else originates or develops.”
  • Smith’s limited edition, small-scale, black marble sculpture Spitball, 1961, is currently on view in the Avery Memorial building’s third floor galleries.

Two views: Tony Smith Spitball, 1961. Black marble; Edition 2/50, 12 ½ x 14 3/8 x 14 ½ in. Gift of the Estate of Marcus Bassevitch, 1993.82.

Amaryllis (1965)

  • Contemporary sculpture: a large, complex, geometric form
  • Medium: steel with black paint
  • Dimensions: approximately 135 x 128 x 90 in.
  • Edition of three, all in public collections – The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
  • First exhibited in 1966 as part of Smith’s first solo show at the Wadsworth Atheneum
  • Purchased for Wadsworth’s collection in 1967
  • Has been off view since 2003
  • Newly conserved in 2012

Tony Smith (American, 1912 – 1980)

  • Born September 23, 1912 in South Orange, New Jersey
  • Often cited as a pioneering figure in American minimalist sculpture
  • American painter, sculptor, and architectural designer
  • Education: Fordham University, New York, 1931; Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., 1931-32; Art Students League, New York, 1934-36; and New Bauhaus, Chicago, 1937
  • First trained as an architect and in 1939 began working for Frank Lloyd Wright. Less than two years later he established his own architectural practice in New York, which he operated for over 20 years.
  • Began sculpting in the mid-1950s
  • Although he taught at various institutions throughout his career, from 1962 to 1980 he taught at Hunter College in New York
  • Died December 26, 1980 in New York, New York


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From Our Collection

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