Yale Art Professor Lectures on Tau Sculptor Tony Smith
Audience members at Seton Hall learn about the life and work of a South Orange native.
As South Orange prepares for Friday’s dedication of the Tau sculpture in Meadowland Park, residents and students at Seton Hall took the opportunity to learn more about the man behind the Village’s newest work of art.
About 75 people attended a Thursday evening lecture by Robert Storr, the dean of Yale's School of Art, as well as a curator, critic and painter. He delved into the mind of the late sculptor Tony Smith, a South Orange native whose pieces are owned by the MoMA, Guggenheim, Hirshhorn and other museums around the world.
“In terms of Smith’s thinking,” Storr told the crowd, “he was not entirely at home in the modern world. He once said ‘I don’t make sculpture, I articulate form.’”
Storr further explained that, “Smith was a fundamental shape-maker. He conceptualized what form could be, and could take in any direction. He taught us that space is here, whether we’re in it or not. It has a volume with or without us.” He said Smith’s work is “really complicated, even though it looks really simple.”
Smith’s Tau—a replica of the original at Hunter College—was installed in Meadowland Park in November, between the Duck Pond and North Ridgewood Road. His wife, Jane, donated the rights to the sculpture to the Village in memory of her husband, who died in 1980 but lived in South Orange for many years.
The steel structure weighs in at 12,100 pounds. It was vandalized early Friday morning with spray paint but has already been painted over, and the dedication ceremony is taking place as scheduled.
The Village and The Pierro Foundation funded the installation and site preparation. Since it was installed November, school groups have been visiting the site to learn about geometry, engineering and problem-solving principles used in the creation of this massive sculpture.
Many residents have already noticed the large structure.
“I loved it,” said Miriam Sumner, who earned an MFA from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and came to see her former professor, Storr. “It taught me a lot about Tony Smith’s thought process and how careful and thoughtful he was about it. Most particularly, I learned how engaged he was in the ever-changing intellectual process.”
“I was interested in having a sculpture in town. He wouldn’t have been the first artist I thought of, but I’m really happy it’s here. It changes all day long,” she said.
SHU sophomore Felicia Rego, 20, of South Orange, says that before coming to the lecture, she never really understood the sculpture. “I know some people think it’s an eyesore. I don’t see it as that. But when I drove by it I never really knew what it was. I’ll look at it different now. When I drive by, I’ll finally get it,” she said.
Others have not yet had the opportunity to experience Tau, but, thanks to the lecture, plan on going as soon as possible. “This was really interesting. It’s a jumping-off point, and now I’ll definitely go to the unveiling,” said Lindsay LaPrad, a 22-year-old graduate student at Seton Hall.
Storr hasn’t visited Meadowland Park, but is sure the Tau fits in. “Having spent many hours playing with models and looking at his art, I can say it does pretty well in any circumstance I can think of," he said.