First there’s ‘Smoke’

Times Staff Writer

As the Los Angeles County Museum of Art rolls out changes across its campus in preparation for the Feb. 16 opening of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, LACMA visitors can catch a glimpse of “Smoke” -- one of the new arrivals -- in the atrium of the Ahmanson Building.

A massive, anthropomorphic sculpture of black-painted aluminum, “Smoke” measures 24 feet, 2 inches high, 47 feet wide and 33 feet deep and was created by Tony Smith, who emerged in the 1960s as an early Minimalist.

The angular yet organic piece, composed of more than 40 extended octahedral modules and five double-triangle knee components, was fabricated in 2005 from Smith’s original plywood mock-up, unveiled at Washington’s Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1967.

That year, “Smoke” made the cover of Time magazine, which wrote that the spiky-legged form, a “black behemoth,” created a “hypnotic environment like some underwater coral growth.”


LACMA Director Michael Govan was familiar with the original installation at the Corcoran, said curator Leslie Jones, “and when he saw the atrium space in the Ahmanson, it kind of clicked: Here’s another atrium that could hold Tony Smith’s ‘Smoke.’ ”

Smith, who died in 1980, chose that title because he felt the spaces it created caused its logic “to disappear like smoke,” Jones said. “When you see it and walk through it and under it, it changes completely. Inherently it is logical because it’s composed of geometric parts, but once you experience it, the logic kind of falls away.”

In fact, she said, at one point the crane operator installing the geometric modules of the piece was “just sitting there saying, ‘I know this is straight, but it doesn’t look straight.” It seemed to him that it was not only tilting but also moving, she said.

The atrium space holding the sculpture and a new grand staircase won’t be fully accessible to the public until the Broad Contemporary opens on Feb. 16, but meanwhile, the plaza level of the Ahmanson offers an intriguing view from the top.