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Weekly Art Hit: ‘Moses’

Smith SAC75.000.03   Looking at the weighty, steel geometric volumes that make up Tony Smith’s Moses sculpture, it’s hard to imagine this work presented in plywood, but that’s just how the public first saw the piece in 1968. The Seattle Art Museum’s Contemporary Art Council first commissioned the work for an exhibition planned for the organization’s Art Museum Pavilion. This temporary model was exhibited each of the following years at Bumbershoot until 1972, when the Art in Public Places Committee recommended to the Seattle Arts Commission that a permanent version of Moses be created in steel. Installed in 1975, this sculpture became the first major public art acquisition under Seattle’s 1% for Art program.

In Moses, the collection of oblique planes and geometric volumes unite to create a multifaceted surface in black steel.  The artwork gets its name from the parallel upright forms that suggest horns in Michelangelo’s Moses.  His representation came from a mistranslation of a Hebrew word that described Moses as having rays of light coming from his head.  Smith’s sculpture perpetuates this curiosity.

Tony Smith worked first as a toolmaker and draftsman while studying painting and drawing. After Smith SAC75.000.01serving as clerk for Frank Lloyd Wright, he managed his own successful independent practice for almost two decades.  His work is included in many leading international public collections, including at the Olympic Sculpture Park, where Seattle Art Museum has continued their interest in this artist.

The next time you visit Seattle Center, check out Moses, located by the Seattle Center Sculpture Garden next to the Space Needle.

Funding: Seattle Center 1% for Art funds, National Endowment for the Arts, Contemporary Art Council of the Seattle Art Museum, Virginia Wright Fund, AIA – Seattle Chapter

Images: Moses, 1975, Painted steel, 11’6″H x 15’W x 7’D, 5,500 pounds. Top image: Spike Mafford Photography, bottom image: Amy Louise Herndon


Weekly Art Hit is featuring artworks every week from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2000s. to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the city’s public art program.