Tony Smith was born December 23, 1912 in South Orange, New Jersey. Although known for his large-scale minimalist sculpture, Smith started his career as a painter and architect.
From 1934 to 1936, while helping with the family business, Smith attend the Art Students League of New York studying painting, drawing, and anatomy under artists such as George Bridgeman, George Grosz, and Vaclav Vytlacil. In 1932, Smith visited the International Style architecture exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York and was deeply impressed with it. Soon after this visit, Smith moved to Chicago where he worked with architect Frank Lloyd Wright until starting his own firm in the 1940's.
Throughout his career, Smith taught at various colleges and universities including New York University, Cooper Union, Pratt Institute, Bennington College and Hunter College. During the summer of 1969, Smith was asked to teach a sculpture course at the University of Hawaii in Manoa. This is where Smith created The Fourth Sign that was sited on the campus.
During the 1940's and 1950's, Smith became close friends with artists Barnett Newmann, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still, all of who contributed to abstract influences in Smith's work. As a minimalist sculptor, Smith created strict, yet often complex sculpture on a monumental scale. During the 1960's and 1970's, Smith was a leading sculpture and considered a pioneer of the American Minimal art movement.
Smith's work has been exhibited in numerous gallery and museum shows, including Primary Structures, the seminal show at the Jewish Museum, New York in 1966 and a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1998
Tony Smith died December 26, 1980 of a heart attack at the age of 68.