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Detroit Institute of Arts' Gracehoper sculpture to undergo major conservation
Tony Smith, Gracehoper, 1961. Welded steel and paint. Detroit Institute of Arts.
DETROIT, MICH.- This summer the Detroit Institute of Arts will paint Gracehoper, the monumental painted-steel sculpture by Tony Smith (1912–80) displayed on the museum’s North Lawn. Gracehoper has suffered from nearly 30 years of exposure to harsh weather and natural corrosion, and is in need of conservation treatment. The DIA will prepare, prime and paint Gracehoper using a durable black paint that is projected to last 15–20 years.

At the end of June a chain-link fence was installed around the perimeter of the workspace and equipment was brought in. A protective tent-like structure will cover Gracehoper and conservators will prepare the surface for treatment. Painting is expected to be completed in September.

The DIA will provide a viewing area near the museum’s Kirby Street entrance with benches, signs and a QR code that will take people to for more information. Recorded project updates and information about the sculpture will be available by calling 313-833-8620.

Gracehoper stands 22.5 ft. tall, 23 ft. deep, and 46 ft. long and weighs about 27 tons. It was fabricated in six segments, and in 1972 each section was assembled on site under the artist’s watchful eye. Constructed of bold modular forms based on tetrahedrons and octahedrons, the complex structure suggests industrial fabrication and the natural world. At the time, Gracehoper was the largest outdoor sculpture to be assembled in the United States, and Smith considered it to be among his most successful works.

The title comes from the central passage of “The Ondt and The Gracehoper” in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. In the novel, the “Gracehoper” is an insect representing progress, change and dynamism, very much like Smith’s own work.

Smith was an architect, sculptor and painter primarily known for his colossal geometric sculptures created in the last 20 years of his life. He is considered to be one of the most influential artists of the 20th century and is celebrated as a pioneering figure in the American minimalist art movement.

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