Artist: Leon Polk Smith

We have championed the work of Leon Polk Smith since some of our earliest auctions. One of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Polk Smith is credited with founding the hard-edge style of minimalist art with his signature geometric abstract works and shaped canvases. 

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The positive-negative interplay Smith had used in the geometric paintings becomes imbued with undulant subtleties: hourglass forms, slow arcs contrast with tight ones, soft squeezes, and firm interlockings...

Lawrence Alloway

Auction Results Leon Polk Smith

Public Collections

Birmingham Museum of Art

Phoenix Museum of Art

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego
Palm Springs Museum of Art

Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven

Art Institute of Chicago

David Owsley Museum of Art, Ball State University, Muncie
Indianapolis Museum of Art

University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City

Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Museums, Cambridge
Mead Art Museum, Amherst College
Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield
Rose Museum, Brandies University, Waltham

Detroit Institute of Arts
University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor

Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska, Lincoln

New Hampshire
Hood Museum of Art, Hanover

New Jersey
Montclair Art Museum

New York
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo
The Brooklyn Museum
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Art
JP Morgan Chase Art Collection
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Morgan Library and Museum
Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute Museum of Art, Utica
Museum of Modern Art
New York Public Library, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints, and Photographs
Parrish Art Museum, Southampton
Pollock-Krasner House and Study Collection, Stony Brook University, East Hampton
Whitney Museum of American Art

Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland
Cleveland Museum of Art

East Central University, Ada
Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma, Norman
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Oklahoma State University Museum of Art, Stillwater
State Art Collection, Oklahoma City

Portland Art Museum

Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh

Rhode Island
Rhode Island School of Design Art Museum, Providence

Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas
Dallas Museum of Art
Fort Worth Art Museum
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Washington D.C.
FAPE, Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
National Gallery of Art

Milwaukee Art Museum


Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Buenos Aires, Rubino Collection

University of Sydney Museum, Sydney

Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver B.C.

Grenoble Museum, Grenoble

Allianz Germany AG, Munich
Kunsthalle Nürenberg, Nürnberg
Museum Fur Konkrete Kunst, Ingolstadt
Museum Ludwig, Cologne
Museum fur Moderner Kunst, Ingolstadt
Museum Pfalzgalerie Kaiserslautern
Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin
Sammlung Ludwig Museum Moderner Kunst, Wien, Cologne
Staatliches Museum für Kunst und Design in Nürnberg, Nürnberg
Weisbaden Museum of Art, Weisbaden
Wilhelm-Hack Museum, Ludwigshaafen Am Rhein

Israel Museum, Jerusalem

My canvases are something like a magnetic field, and they have to be alive all over...

Leon Polk Smith

Leon Polk Smith 1906–1996

One of the foremost pioneers of the minimalist movement, Leon Polk Smith transformed American painting with his hard-edged forms and bold colors. Smith was born in the American Indian territory of Chickasha, Oklahoma, in 1906. He was of Cherokee descent, and his parents instilled in him the concept of equality in an era marked by racism. In 1936, Polk Smith graduated from Oklahoma State College. He later moved to New York in 1936, where he began his Master’s degree in Art Education at Columbia University. While in New York, one of his professors took him to see A. E. Gallatin’s Museum of Living Art, a collection that consisted of contemporary art and sculpture that were “fresh and individual.” Polk Smith was struck by the neoplastic paintings of Piet Mondrian and the revolutionary sculptures of Constantin Brâncuși and Jean Arp. While inspired by these modern artists, he would later go far beyond their rigid philosophies by employing new forms to create his monumental works.

In 1941, Polk Smith held his first show at the Uptown Gallery in New York. While showing his paintings in the city, he became close with a group of artists that included Carmen Herrera and Barnett Newman who strove to rethink geometric abstraction in their paintings. During the 1960s, Polk Smith was sympathetic to the burgeoning Civil Rights movement and he created paintings in support of equality. He began to play with the idea of fragmentation starting in the 1970s, as he incorporated his love of the American landscape and the night sky into his paintings. Polk Smith passed away in 1996. The same year, the Brooklyn Museum organized a monumental Polk Smith exhibition. Polk Smith’s work is held in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, among many others.