Critics’ Picks

View of “Kiki, Seton, and Tony Smith,” 2013. Foreground: Kiki Smith, Born, 2002. Background: Kiki Smith, Dusk, 2009.

View of “Kiki, Seton, and Tony Smith,” 2013. Foreground: Kiki Smith, Born, 2002. Background: Kiki Smith, Dusk, 2009.


“Kiki, Seton, and Tony Smith”

Les Abattoirs
76 Allees Charles-de-Fitte
May 24–September 1, 2013

Honoring the centennial of Tony Smith’s birth in 1912, a retrospective juxtaposing his work with that of his two daughters—contemporary artists Kiki Smith and Seton Smith—has been touring Europe. After two stops in Germany (Kunsthalle Bielefeld and Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, Vaduz), this family affair is now on view at Toulouse’s Les Abattoirs, a former slaughterhouse whose soaring ceilings and brick arcades provide a dramatic setting for Smith senior’s monumental sculpture.

In addition to celebrating Smith’s mature Minimalist style—epitomized here by Cigarette, 1961, a fifteen-foot-tall polygonal arch—the exhibition explores his career as an architect (he joined Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio in 1938) and a painter (colleagues Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, and Ad Reinhardt were also close friends). Smith’s architectural models and sketches demonstrate an early fascination with spatial relationships between large-scale geometric forms. Rarely exhibited paintings from the 1930s through the ’60s reveal Smith’s largely ignored association with Abstract Expressionism. The multicolored circles and peanut shapes of Smith’s “Louisenberg” series, 1953–54, are chromatically surprising given that the artist’s signature black monochromes were begun the following decade. The interlocking geometric forms, however, are motifs the artist explored throughout his career.

The presence of Smith’s daughters’ work emphasizes connections to landscape and the human body. Surrounded by five of Seton’s black-and-white photographs of craggy Washington State hilltops (“Hills aka Dirt Pictures,” 2011), Tony’s Zen garden comprising five sharp-edged black steel boulders (Wandering Rocks, 1967–70) appears unexpectedly earthy. Conversely, the geometric artificial rocks draw attention to abstract forms in the cropped landscape photographs. Meanwhile, Kiki’s bronze female nudes (Rapture, 2001, and Born, 2002) reinforce the corporeality of Die, 1962, Tony’s six-foot steel cube based on the proportions of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man. Whether intentionally reacting to their father’s Minimalist style or not, the works by the Smith sisters—who are shown dutifully assembling their father’s paper models in one of many of the exhibition’s archival photographs—inspire a rich dialogue between representation and abstraction.