New York

Tony Smith

Fourcade, Droll

If on first study Tony Smith’s sculpture threatens to seem too scientific, too thorough in its exploitation of a restricted vocabulary of forms, a closer consideration finds it breaking down into unconnected interests. The forms would seem to require a sharp, crystalline edge in execution, but often the bronze has been polished soft at the corners, almost to the extent of suggesting an intervening plane. One is hard pressed to decide whether this is done by design or simply tolerated in the conviction that the form will suggest itself beyond the contingencies of workmanship.

The large, networklike pieces show this effect. They resemble models of molecules in crystal and cover space in a way that suggests infinite, creeping extension. Their titles reinforce the suggestion: Smog, for instance. But the smaller pieces, each consisting of two or three branches of metal, come to resemble soap sculptures. The softened edge raises the (misleading) possibility that these sculptures were all carved out of one great bar of material, with vast waste of substance. The diagonal junctures and extensions seem far less determined than they might have from a distance.

A couple of Smith’s more genuinely Minimal pieces are included. There is one of his good-sized cubes, and a spiraling length of material called Trap. But for the most part the pieces read as strict geometrical modeling rather than as pure geometrical forms themselves. The Snake Is Out, for instance, is fabricated in the usual square-cornered idiom, but suggests a snake emerging from an egg. We can’t tell where “egg” stops and “snake” begins but we feel compelled to try: there is a disturbing feeling that this is Cubist modeling of a naturalistic object pushed to absurdity.

Even in a piece which seems to try to fuse Minimal treatments and the rudiments of abstract reference, such as Beard Wig, a large cube with another solid surfacing diagonally out of it, Smith seems to get caught between the two. The playfulness of the titles conflicts with the earnestness of the forms. I’m not sure which it is that Smith means to say—or means to make.

Phil Patton