Not on view
Overall: 72 3/8 × 72 3/8 × 72 3/8in. (183.8 × 183.8 × 183.8 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Louis and Bessie Adler Foundation, Inc., James Block, The Sondra and Charles Gilman, Jr. Foundation, Inc., Penny and Mike Winton, and the Painting and Sculpture Committee
Rights and reproductions
©Estate of Tony Smith/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
The size and form of Tony Smith’s Die, a 6-foot steel cube, was inspired by the Italian Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci’s famous drawing of the Vitruvian Man, which shows the ideal proportions of the human figure set within the perfect geometry of a circle and a square. Hollow and raised off the floor so that all twelve edges are visible, Die’s dimensions imply those of the body, while its sheer volume suggests the form of a monument or tomb. Rich in allusions, the title Die and the work’s dimensions suggest a pun related to the chance roll of the dice, but also, most obviously, an allusion to death. As Smith noted, “six feet has a suggestion of being cooked. Six foot box. Six feet under.” Since Smith worked in a tool and die shop, Die also evokes the perforated block used to punch holes or blanks out of sheet metal. Thus, the title points not only to a method of fabrication, but to the idea that the sculpture, a massive form which punctures its surroundings, might be seen as a hole or void, displacing rather than occupying space.
Tony Smith, Die, 1962
Tony Smith, Die, 1962
Narrator: Architectural historian Michael Hays.
A. Michael Hays: It would be correct to think of Die as a defining work of Minimalist art. But it's not Minimalist only. We tend to think of Minimalist art as having minimal content, being devoid of extrinsic references or extrinsic meanings. With Die we get something different. We get a piece that engages the viewer in a physical way, in a bodily way. There's something about the dimensions of course, it's a six-by-six cube—that is, it's roughly the height of a person. You can’t see over it, but at the same time it's not a building, it's not huge. It’s raised slightly off the floor, so in fact even the sixth side, even the bottom, is important. So I think the viewer walks around it engages it as a presence, and not just an idea—it's not the idea of a cube, it is a thing.
Also, the material. It’s made of steel, but unlike a lot of Minimalist sculpture it's not painted, it's oiled. And there's therefore a depth to the surface, a kind of complexity to the surface that you would expect almost more from a painting.
The title is important. The title is Die. And of course "die" is one of a pair of dice, and it is a cube, a black cube. But Die also for Smith meant “die,” dealing with death. He sometimes talked about the chapels carved into the mountains in Greece as being part of a reference. He almost thought of it like a kind of inverted room almost, so it may be a chapel. Smith wanted his works to invoke or to demand thinking about—I would even say spiritual things on the part of the viewer.