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Huntington acquires works by pioneering minimalist Tony Smith, among others
Tony Smith, Untitled, 1960, 50 × 60 in. Anonymous gift in memory of Robert Shapazian. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. ©Tony Smith Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
SAN MARINO, CA.- The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens continued to expand its art holdings this fall, acquiring several American works, including For W.A. (1969), a two-part abstract bronze sculpture by pioneering minimalist Tony Smith (1912–1980). Consisting of two five-foot tall rhombic prisms, For W.A. explores issues of perception, optics, and the pure experience of form, inspiring viewers to walk around and view the approachable, velvety black pieces from different angles. It will go on view in July 2014 in a new space devoted to geometric abstraction and pop art when The Huntington opens 5,400 square feet of additional gallery space in its Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art.

Also acquired for that space this month were a color-saturated untitled abstract painting (oil on canvas, 50 in. × 60 in.) made by Smith in 1960—a rare example of his skills as a colorist—and See Saw (oil on linen, 44 ¾ in. × 44 ¾ in.), a 1966 work by acclaimed American abstract painter Frederick Hammersley (1919–2009). Hammersley was dubbed a “hard edge” artist, first gaining critical attention in the landmark 1959 “Four Abstract Classicists” exhibition along with Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson, and John McLaughlin. Both of the Tony Smith works and the Hammersley painting were acquired with funds from an anonymous donation for the acquisition of American art between 1945 and 1980 in memory of Robert Shapazian.

“By adding to our collections these bold and significant works by key figures of the postwar American art scene, we’re standing by our commitment to tell a full, rich story about the history of art in this country in our galleries,” said Kevin Salatino, Hannah and Russel Kully Director of the Art Collections at The Huntington. “I particularly look forward to visitors’ reactions when they encounter works of art not usually associated with The Huntington’s collections.”

First opened in 1984, and expanded to more than 16,000 square feet in 2009, the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art display works of painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the colonial period through the mid 20th century.

Also this fall, The Huntington acquired the following works of American art by gift and purchase: Cypress Tree, Point Lobos (ca. 1930), a colored crayon drawing on paper by Henrietta Shore (1880–1963); Mask of Elizabeth Laroque (1926), a terracotta by Jo Davidson (18830-1952) to complement the sculpture of the subject already in The Huntington’s collections; and Shanty Town (1935), a woodcut by African-American artist Hale Woodruff (1900–1980), purchased with funds provided by longtime Huntington donors Hannah and Russel Kully.

Tony Smith’s For W.A. (1969) and Untitled (1960)
Born in South Orange, N.J., Tony Smith began his career working in architecture and painting, studying at the New Bauhaus Institute of Design in Chicago and later working under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West. He is best known as a sculptor of monumental statements like Smoke (1967), a multi-faceted molecular model-like structure some 50 feet across, a version of which is on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In contrast, For W.A. consists of two human-scale pieces, each with six parallelogram-shaped faces of smoothly welded bronze.

Conceived by Smith during the summer of 1969, when he was teaching at the University of Hawaii, the eight works in his “For” series were inspired by faculty and friends he met there. “W.A.” are the initials of Webster Anderson, a cinematographer connected with the university who directed a film about a Smith sculpture on campus.

“For W.A. is like an extremely abstract portrait,” said Jessica Todd Smith, Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of American Art at The Huntington. “Each vertical facet is approximately the size and orientation of the grand British portraits in the Huntington Art Gallery. I think the sculpture’s elegantly austere geometry and luscious black patina will inspire Huntington visitors to spend time looking closely and contemplating questions about the power of minimalism.”

In contrast to the monochromatic sculpture, Tony Smith’s Untitled (1960) shows the artist as a great colorist. “Smith was friends with Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still and an accomplished painter in his own right, though that aspect of his work is not particularly well known. Now we can offer visitors a rare opportunity to see his two-dimensional color work juxtaposed with his sculpture,” said Smith.

Frederick Hammersley’s See Saw
Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Frederick Hammersly studied at Chouinard Art Institute (now Cal Arts) and taught at Southern Californian institutions from 1948 to 1968, when he moved to New Mexico. Some of the most important work of his career was made in the 1960s, as he deeply explored geometric form. See Saw, the third painting he made in 1966, uses the limited, formal vocabulary of black squares on a white ground to create a dynamic play of form and negative space.

“Hammersley was a meticulous craftsman who only settled on compositions after extensive study and contemplation,” said Smith, “and See Saw, with its lively geometry and exploration of optics, is an ideal accompaniment to Tony Smith’s sculpture, which also plays with the viewer’s perception of form in space. It will be such a treat to see all of these new works installed together next July.”



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December 18, 2013

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