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It Speaks to Me: Jason Meadows on Tony Smith’s ‘Smoke’ at LACMA

June 23, 2011 |  8:35 am

Smoke(1) To me it looks like a big alien spaceship landed in the Ahmanson pavilion. Or from another view it looks like a huge lumbering dinosaur. Smith called his sculptures “presences,” not objects, because they have this sort of dynamic, temporal quality. They change as you move through the space. And the form here is so powerful, based on cellular organic shapes like crystals and beehives instead of 90-degree geometry. It’s also a celebration of the triangle — his base unit here. If you imagine a square picture frame set on one edge, and apply weight to the top, it will shear and sway laterally. While a triangle set on one edge with weight applied to the top angle will hold its shape because you can’t change the shape of a triangle without changing the length of one of its sides, so you have an incredibly strong structure. I also love the black painted aluminum, which under the skylights is not at all uniform: You get a shadowy black shifting into a rich black turning into a reflective black. There’s a real electricity to it.

--Artist Jason Meadows, as told to Jori Finkel

Image: Tony Smith, Smoke, painted aluminum, 1967, fabricated 2005. Artists Rights Society. Photo Museum Associates/LACMA.