In 1961, at the age of 49, Tony Smith was seriously injured in an automobile accident, and during his long recovery he began toying with simple cardboard constructions that would eventually be fabricated in steel and make him an icon of monumental Minimalist sculpture. But before then, he was a teacher, painter, architect and New York art-world groupie, and this exhibition gathers some of the small abstract paintings that he made in the 1930s and 1940s. Are they any good? Well, yes they are—and you can see that jazzy, rhythmic, aggressive sense of form that would eventually be found in his geometric sculpture (he denied being a “Minimalist”). Without those famous sculptures, though, these paintings would probably have never made it to a gallery on Michigan Avenue. Some of them seem like art-school projects in positive/negative space—while others are just homages to the art heroes of his day: Picasso, Jean Arp, Stuart Davis and Marsden Hartley. This doesn’t make them any less enjoyable, but perhaps these quiet studies are only interesting retroactively as we celebrate his large sculptures that abuse the public spaces into which they were placed. (Chris Miller)
Through October 31 at Valerie Carberry Gallery, Hancock Tower.