Gallerygoers at this week's sculpture show in Washington's Corcoran Gallery will have no trouble finding the exhibit. Once they step inside the skylighted atrium they will be in it, surrounded by it, and all but overwhelmed by it. Rising around them on spiky legs is an asymmetric network of 43 piers, a black behemoth, 45 ft. long, 33 ft. wide and 22 ft. high. Its thrusting structure wars against the gallery's Doric columns, seemingly pushing them aside to create its own hypnotic environment like some underwater coral growth.
When the behemoth, which is entitled Smoke, was put on view last week, a blue-eyed, bearded man, beaming from behind horn-rimmed glasses, said, "Don't you love it? It's crazy. It strikes me as one of the most profound things I've ever seen. It's so serene."
The speaker was Anthony Peter Smith, 55, from whose blueprints and models Smoke had been constructed, and who at the moment is the most dynamic, versatile and talented new sculptor in the U.S. art world, the darling of critics, the envy of every museum curator. Two years ago, Tony Smith*was an unknown, but today serenity is the last thing to be found in his life. He is currently riding a fast-cresting wave of enthusiasmnot merely for his sculpture but for all the huge, wild, pure (and impure) shapes of contemporary art. He is also the primary personification of a growing race of creators who have discarded modeling clay in favor of blueprints, the chisel in favor of the welding torch, and Vulcan's forge for a sheet-metal fabrication shop. This is the era, says William Seitz, organizer of the U.S. show at the São Paulo Bienal, of "sculptors without studiossculptors who have their drawings turned into steel at a factory."
Tension Network. Smith has waited a lifetime for his own skills and public demand to come into conjunction. But once they did, there was a veritable explosion of creative activity and gratifying exhibits. This month, Smith's outsized geometric, yet curiously anthropomorphic sculptures are on exhibit in no fewer than seven cities in the U.S. and Europe. In New York, there are works outside at Lincoln Center, in the
Museum of Modern Art's sculpture garden and in the Guggenheim's International Sculpture Show. The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis is showing four Smiths; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum, the New Jersey State Museum and Pittsburgh's Carnegie one apiece. Yet so sudden is the demand that only four of his pieces have actually been constructed in metal; the rest exist only as painted plywood mockups.
The Corcoran's Smoke is plywood also, but even in that form it took a lot of effort. For the past two months, three to seven workmen have been saw ing, painting, sweating and swearing in the museum's basement and on the main floor. Slowly the massive open construction took on the shape dictated by Smith's original small-scale cardboard model; each part was hinged together to form a baroque network of flowing spaces, held together primarily by tension and hauled into place by hoists. Now installed, the full-scale model cost $6,000; a metal version would have gone as high as $75,000.