Amaryllis Audio Guide

Tony Smith

American, 1912–1980


Painted steel
135 × 128 × 90 inches

Photography not permitted
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Anonymous Gift, 1986

Location: Fine Arts Complex on Trinity Street
GPS: 30.286942,-97.731779
Audio file

Valerie Fletcher: Tony Smith grew up in the Depression and indeed in the mid 1930s, he left school to help his family with their tool-making business. In 1939, he went to work as an assistant to the great architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. At that time, Frank Lloyd Wright was working on a plan to create homes on a modular design that could be mass produced; and in this way, to make fine housing affordable to the masses of people who had very little money. Wright’s plan came to very little, but it inspired Smith to try some of those designs himself. While he too did not succeed in making a commercial success of this, it brought him to look at sculpture as a modular form.

In 1961, after a bad automobile accident, he needed time to recuperate; and during that time, he made small models of sculptures from cardboard. The sculpture, Amaryllis from 1965 is an enlarged version of one of those models. He would turn these over to an industrial fabricator and they would fabricate the sculptures for him out of sheet steel or sheet aluminum, which Smith always had painted a consistent matte black. While the sculptures themselves seemed to be of a consummate simplicity, they are surprisingly sophisticated.

When you walk around them, slowly in one direction and then walk fully around them again in the next direction, it’s surprising how the original form, the form you first saw, changes and morphs and disappears. What is a solid blocky form suddenly becomes flattened; and a silhouette, something that seemed very predominant seems to disappear. And especially the lighted forms, maybe the upper sections that catch the light, will catch it in such a way that the edge suddenly becomes very clear and important; whereas, the underneath shadow almost seems to disappear.