Project Overview01/31/10Tau - The Tony Smith Sculpture Project
March 25, 2010
Tony Smith’s sculptures often evolved from the arrangement and combination of simple polygons like cubes and tetrahedra. To make his model for Tau, seen at right, Smith constructed individual tetrahedra out of cardboard and then taped them together. Though conceived using simple geometric elements, the final forms of Smith’s work elegantly express movement and mass; shapes shift as shadow and light move across angled planes, volumes appear to expand or contract, to lean and extend out into space as we move around them.
Meadowland Park, the public open space chosen as the site for Tau, lies near the bottom of the eastern slope of South Mountain, just west of the center of the Village of South Orange. Meadowland Park is an early 20th century park built in the tradition of Frederic Law Olmsted’s civic landscapes, with mature trees shading open lawns. The eastern branch of the Rahway River runs through the park and there is a large concrete Duck Pond at the bottom of the slope.
AKD sited Tau midway down a gentle slope above the Duck Pond. The spatial structure along the slope works at two levels: the larger volume of space is defined by the trunks and overhead canopies of mature trees at the top, bottom and along the northeast side of the of the slope, and the secondary spaces by the smaller canopies and trunks of a line of flowering dogwoods falling diagonally downslope and away from the sculpture site to the south.
This landscape creates opportunities to engage the movement and mass embodied in Tau’s form as well as the internal geometry – Smith’s ‘space lattice’ – expressed in the arrangement of tetraheda seen in the artist’s model. Tau appears to lean back into the hillside, resisting the pull of gravity and creating a direct relationship between the mass of the sculpture and our own physical experience of the topography. As one walks around the sculpture, the arrangement of the plane surfaces unfold in light and shadow, creating the effect of a counterclockwise twisting motion, moving up and out from the stable base. This spiraling movement is echoed in the placement of new trees, interplanted among the existing Dogwoods. Sculpture and trees are located along a grid based on Tau’s internal geometry. This grid, centered on the trunk of an existing Dogwood, is used to integrate the formative geometry of Tau with the spatial structure of the existing, pastoral landscape.