Lot 3
  • 3

Tony Smith

bidding is closed


  • Tony Smith
  • Source
  • painted steel
  • 288 by 763 by 745cm.
  • 114 by 300 by 294in.


Estate of the artist


New York, Matthew Marks Gallery, Tony Smith: Source, 2012

Mountainville, New York, Storm King Art Center (on loan 2014-16)


Lucy R. Lippard, Tony Smith, London, 1972, no. 52, the smaller version illustrated

Matthew Marks Gallery (ed.), Not an Object. Not a Monument: The Complete Large-Scale Sculpture of Tony Smith, New York, 2007, the larger version illustrated pp. 56–7

Catalogue Note

Tony Smith is regarded as a pioneer of American art and his large-scale geometric forms represent some of the finest achievements in American sculpture. Originally a painter, Smith became a full-time architect in the 1940s and it wasn’t until the late 1950s that he began to make sculpture. In the two decades from this point to his death in 1980, Smith conceived more than fifty large-scale sculptures. Informed by his practice in architecture, he began by experimenting with simple three-dimensional shapes which he then enlarged, conferring drama through scale. Smith’s first exhibition of these sculptures was in 1964 and just three years later in 1967 he was illustrated on the cover of Time Magazine with the heady caption ‘Master of the Monumentalists’.

Smith’s body of work defies categorisation: he was contemporary and friend of the Abstract Expressionists, although the reductive geometry and discipline of his forms share more overt affinities with Minimalism. Smith, however, conceived of his works as ‘presences’ which stemmed directly from his training in architecture. He contemplated mass, balance and volume; he would never begin a work with the end point already conceived, but rather achieve his forms through spatial and modular experimentation. In fact, Source was created from the dismantling of the maquette for an earlier work entitled Gracehoper (1962).

Source is emblematic of Smith’s output: imposing in scale, multi-faceted and painted in his distinct black finish. The artist was specifically drawn to a sense of order set alongside disorder, which Source exemplifies in its various unfolding elements which offer multiple opportunities for shifting perspectives. Smith himself explained: ‘My own personal feeling is that all my sculpture is on the edge of dreams. They come close to the unconscious in spite of their geometry. On one level, my work has clarity. On another, it is chaotic and imagined’ (quoted in ‘Sculpture: Master of the Monumentalists’, Time Magazine, 13th October 1967, online resource).

The title is drawn from an 1864 painting by Gustave Courbet, which long held fascination for him: ‘It would take many lines to explain why I consider Courbet’s The Source of the Loue to be so uniquely related to Abstract Expressionist painting, but I do associate it with the work of my late friends. Anyhow, when I saw my sculpture I thought of this great flood gushing from the rock face’ (quoted in ‘A Tale of Tony Smith’, Cleveland Art, July/August 2011, online resource).

Another version of Source is in the permanent collection of The Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland, Ohio.