No Preservatives: Conversations about Conservation

No Preservatives | Happy (Belated) Birthday, Tony Smith!

Limited Edition Tony Smith T-Shirt.

Limited Edition Tony Smith T-Shirt.

As part of the ongoing celebration of Tony Smith’s 100th birthday, the folks at the Tony Smith Estate and the International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art – North America (INCCA-NA) wanted to do something special and a little different: document every single one of Smith’s outdoor artworks using Wikipedia. INCCA-NA launched this rather ambitious project last year by posting instructions in Wikipedia to help facilitate documentation. Then, they asked the world to help create the articles. When the initiative was first announced, there were eager participants who contributed good articles. The project also got some buzz, including a mention in the New York Times. But lately things have been moving slowly. The project needs help. Your help.

What’s in it for me, you ask? INCCA-NA is giving participants the limited-edition Tony Smith t-shirt pictured above (designed by Justin Visnesky). The front features a stylized version of Smith’s sculpture Marriage. The reverse bears a black and white INCCA-NA logo.

By contributing to this project you would be helping to document artworks by one of the greatest American sculptors of the 20th-century. You would also be helping to increase the “sum of all human knowledge” about art on the world’s fifth most viewed website.

For some, Wikipedia isn’t the easiest platform to work with. But here’s all you have to do:

  1. Follow the instructions within the Wikiproject for selecting and researching artwork.
  2. Using these instructions, write a Wikipedia article about the artwork you’ve chosen. To get a sense of what a good article looks like, check out the Wikipedia article for Smith’s sculpture Gracehoper.
  3. When you’re done, leave a note in the comment section below or on my Wikipedia Talk Page and tell me your t-shirt size (M, L, XL). I’ll have INCCA-NA send you a t-shirt!

Note: For the past few years, I have served on INCCA-NA’s program committee, and as part of that group, I helped create this project. If you contributed a Smith Wikipedia article early on, you too can receive a t-shirt! Drop a note on my Talk Page (link above) and I’ll have one sent to you. Please hurry though–supplies are limited. It’s first come, first served. Also, Tony Smith won’t be 100 forever.

Tony Smith with his sculpture “The Snake Is Out” in Bryant Park in 1967. Photo from the New York Times.

Tony Smith with his sculpture “The Snake Is Out” in Bryant Park in 1967. Photo from the New York Times.

Why is it important to have a Wikipedia article about every single Tony Smith sculpture in the world? Because art is important. Smith is important. And many of his works are not documented in a way that’s easily accessible online. If we are able to achieve this now, we can prove the effectiveness of this kind of project and process. Then, people can start thinking about ways to collaborate on the documentation of works by other, and perhaps lesser-known, artists. Participants of this project are helping everyone care for (and about) Smith’s sculptures a little more, and caring for art is really the first step in preservation.

Need another reason to participate? If you’re an emerging arts professional or enthusiasts, you could put your finished article on your resume. Knowing how to create Wikipedia articles about art is a very good 21st century skill to have. Go on, give it a try. Look at how much fun the people in this photograph are having with the project!

Richard McCoy talking to Rosanna Flouty's NYU students.

Richard McCoy skyping with New York University graduate students in the course “Museums and Interactive Technologies,” taught by Rosanna Flouty, Art21’s Director of Education. Flouty’s students worked collaboratively to create an article for the Tony Smith piece “Throwback” located in NYC.

  1. Phyllis Tuchman says:

    Am out of the country. Love Tony’s work. Thought he was terrific. Spent a wonderful day with him shortly before he died. When I get back to NYC next week, know exactly which sculpture I want to write about.

  2. Richard Peglow says:

    …wishing there was a Tony Smith sculpture in Indianapolis I could tackle.

  3. Richard McCoy says:

    Sounds good. There are number in NYC that need to be written about … I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

  4. Richard McCoy says:

    Oh, don’t despair! A clever researcher can document sculptures in other places … just hard to get a photograph if you’re not there. There are lots to chose from on the list …

  5. Pingback: The Modern Art Notes Podcast: Wolfgang Laib | Tyler Green: Modern Art Notes |

  6. Daniel Sides says:

    Such a nice post. The insights are great. Keep up the good work.

  7. Pingback: Week in Review | Art21 Blog

  8. zach alan says:

    ah, there the comments are. I could also photo Playground (3/3) in hollywood this saturday, if you need a photo of that. just email me.

  9. Richard McCoy says:

    Oh, cool, Zach! Thanks. For just images, you can also upload them to the “Tony Smith” Flickr pool, where a lot of the images are:

  10. Richard McCoy says:

    A photo would be great (see above for a place to put them in Flickr). Photos can’t be uploaded to Wikipedia without an article already being in place because of copyright issues.

    Any chance I could convince you to write an article about the one in Hollywood?

    Thanks, RM

  11. slowking says:

    nice photos, i think the idea was to upload to flickr or wikicommons under an open license, so they’re more easily useable in an article.

  12. Mark Clark says:

    I started working at the Corcoran about the time they were doing a show called Scale as Content that featured Smith’s “Smoke” and Ron Bladen’s “X” sculptures. Both were built in house by the Corcoran’s crew of carpenters. At the time I was employed selling admission tickets at the front door. Later, when I got on the crew the carpenters told me that there had been a pretty heated discussion about the drawings for the sculpture, and Russell Simms and another old timer named Ray Stevenson had told Smith it wasn’t going to go together as planned, that the angles for the plywood shapes that were to build the third level wouldn’t fit. The sculptor insisted he was right, and his stubbornness prevailed. The third level didn’t fit and the plywood triangles that were to build it were sent to the subbasement for storage. The metal reconstruction still has only two levels. Russell and Ray were right and they got to say “I told you so”. There’s a lesson in here somewhere.

  13. Richard McCoy says:

    What an interesting story! So many of interesting things happen “behind the scenes” at art museums that never get told or written … thanks for sharing this one here. RM

  14. Richard McCoy says:

    Nice work! I think those two are the last ones in D.C. that are currently on view and outdoors. “Die” is installed inside the NGA (it, too, could be documented, though), and I think “The Snake is Out” is not on view because the NGA is under construction.


  15. Isaac Mayne says:

    Just finished this:
    The project and the man himself were brought to my attention by I really like the idea. Totally cited one of the commenter’s (Phyllis Tuchman) articles as well. You rock, Phyllis!


  16. Awesome work, Isaac! T-shirt is on it’s way.

  17. Sarah Auld says:

    In response to Mark Clark’s post dated 1-23-13, statement from Robert Swain (assistant to Tony Smith 1967-69) regarding plywood mock-up for Smoke at the Corcoran.
    “I directed all aspects of construction and was there every single day until it’s completion…
    There was never a third level. I actually built the original cardboard model one evening, in New Jersey, sitting with Tony.
    This model was later cast in bronze and represents the original idea as conceived by Tony.”

Leave a Comment