Tony Smith came to sculpture from architecture and design. In about 1960 he turned his professional attention to organically derived, and then to crystalline and modular, three-dimensional forms. A friend of the Abstract Expressionists, and a teacher who impressed students by correlating the experience of art and sculpture with that of life and the environment, Smith saw his career take off late, almost contemporaneously with that of minimalists Donald Judd and Carl Andre.

Inspiration for “Gracehoper” goes back to 1963, a reflection on the tetrahedrons and octahedrons Smith had encountered in crystallography. One of his most complex sculptures, it took eight years for him to realize it on the intended scale. The six separately fabricated steel units were assembled on the museum’s north lawn in 1972. The title, a pun on the grasshopper it resembles, derives from the mythical beast of the same name in James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake.”
Artist Tony Smith, American, 1912 - 1980
  • Gracehoper
Date 1961
Medium steel and paint
Dimensions Overall: 23 × 22 × 46 feet (7 m 1 cm × 6 m 70.6 cm × 14 m 2.1 cm)
Credit Line Founders Society Purchase with funds from W. Hawkins Ferry and Mr. and Mrs. Walter Buhl Ford II Fund, Eleanor Clay Ford Fund, Marie and Alex Manoogian Fund and members of the Friends of Modern Art
Accession Number 72.436
Department Contemporary Art after 1950
On View Area bordered by east side of building and John R. Street, Level R (see map)
Signed Signed, plaque inside of sculpture: Tony Smith
Inscriptions Dated on plaque inside of sculpture: 1961 [Note: Smith prefered to date his work according to date of concept rather than fabrication.]
1972-present, purchase, commissioned from the artist by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Bulletin of the DIA 50, no. 2 (1971): pp. 18-22 (cover ill.).

Bulletin of the DIA 52, no. 1 (1973): pp. 1, 23, 72 (ill.).

Green, Eleanor. "The Morphology of Tony Smith's Work." Artforum (April 1974): 54-59 (ill.).

Ocvirk, O.G.,et al. Art Fundamentals: Theory and Practice. Dubuque, 1975, fig. 224 and back cover.

Rose, Barbara. American Art since 1900. New York, 1975, p. 278, fig. II-54.

Armstrong, Tom, et al. 200 Years of American Sculpture. Boston, 1976, fig. 321, p. 220, (ill.).

100 Masterworks from the Detroit Institute of Arts. New York, 1985, pp. 232, 233 (ill.).

Tony Smith: Selected Sculptures 1961-1973, Part I. New York, 1985, (ill.).