Lot 174
  • 174

Tony Smith

100,000 - 150,000 USD
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  • Tony Smith
  • Black Box
  • corten steel 
  • 22 1/2 by 33 by 24 3/4 in. 57 by 84 by 63 cm.
  • Conceived in 1962 and cast in 1967, this work is the artist's proof from an edition of 3, plus 1 artist's proof.


Estate of Xavier Fourcade, Paris (acquired directly from the artist)
Sotheby's, New York, 3 May 1988, Lot 182 
Private Collection, New York 
Galerie Pierre Huber, Geneva
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1991 


Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum; Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, Institute of Contemporary Art, Tony Smith: Two Exhibitions of Sculpture, November 1966 - January 1967, n.p., illustrated, (another example exhibited)
The Detroit Institute of Arts, Color, Image and Form, April - May 1967, (another example exhibited)
University of Maryland Art Gallery, Tony Smith: Paintings and Sculpture, February - March 1974, cat. no. 29, illustrated, (another example exhibited)
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, BLAM! The Explosion of Pop, Minimalism, and Performance 1958-1964, September - December 1984, (another example exhibited)
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Tony Smith: Architect, Painter, Sculptor, July - September 1998, p. 150, illustrated in color,  (another example exhibited)


Eugene C. Goosen, Nine Sculptures by Tony Smith, Newark 1970
Lucy Lippard, Tony Smith, New York 1972, p. 34, illustrated 
Eleanor Green, Artforum, Vol. XII, No. 8, April 1974, p. 55, illustrated
Exh. Cat., New York, The Pace Gallery, Ten Elements and Throwback, 1979, p. 3, illustrated
Exh. Cat., New York, Xavier Fourcade, Inc., (and traveling), Tony Smith, Selected Sculptures: 1961-1973 Part I, 1985, illustrated 


This work is in very good and sound condition overall. The irregularities to the patina are inherent to the artist’s chosen medium.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

In 1962, Tony Smith produced the powerful and enigmatic Black Box, a steel sculpture, which initiated an instrumental change both in his own practice and in the discourse of modern art. Black Box’s industrial medium, hard geometric edges and simple rectangular shape lacked any aesthetic precedent in the sculptural canon and instead pushed forth a new concept of artistic creation. His work heralded the emergence of a group of artists, known as the Minimalists, who advocated for the formal construction of the viewer’s experience over overt representation.

Prior to the creation of Black Box, Smith worked as an architect in the New Bauhaus school and then as a design instructor at in New York City, where he was exposed to the creative potential of industrial materials. Kenneth Baker comments on Smith and his contemporaries, “When these artists recognized that industry controlled the aesthetic physics of objects to a degree that no individual could, they resorted to industrial fabrication in order to avail themselves of that control” (Kenneth Baker, Minimalism, New York 1988, p. 9). Smith took a material central to the experience of modern, urban life—steel—and used it to new ends. While Smith made other cardboard models for this box by hand, this sculpture was a product of industrialization, executed by a steel fabricator. After the creation of this early Black Box, the artist went on to create larger-scale models of the sculpture, such as Die (1968), marking a shift in his methods which placed particular emphasis on conceptual design.

In an interview with Artforum in 1967, Smith revealed the psychological impetus behind the Black Box. He described a drive on the expansive, unfinished New Jersey turnpike as a transformative event, explaining, “There is no way you can frame it, you have to experience it” (Tony Smith quoted in Samuel J. Wagstaff Jr., “Talking with Tony Smith,” Artforum, Dec. 1966). Black Box is an attempt on the part of the artist to engender that kind of revelatory experience, without explicit representational dictation. The smooth surfaces and straight lines of the steel box do not easily lend themselves to interpretation. Michael Fried writes, “Here again the experience of being distanced by the work in question seems crucial: the beholder knows himself to stand in an indeterminate, open-ended—and unexacting—relation as subject to the impassive object” (Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood (1967),” Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews, Chicago 1998, p. 155). Black Box does not represent anything, but rather, through its formal mechanisms, articulates the very limitless, frameless status of art, and the integral role of the viewer in determining meaning. The present work set the stage for an entire generation of artists, who sought to explore the revolutionary formal principles introduced by Black Box.