Gracehoper, Tony Smith's monumental, painted-steel sculpture on the DIA's North Lawn, has suffered from nearly 30 years of exposure to harsh weather and natural corrosion. Through consultation with the Tony Smith Estate, paint specialists, and expert conservators, the conservation team developed a plan that honors the artist's vision while using innovative advancements in paint technology.

Over the course of two months, conservators will prepare, prime, and paint all surfaces that will protect Gracehoper from the effects of weathering. The paint is projected to last 15 to 20 years, ensuring that Gracehoper will remain an icon for the DIA, the city of Detroit, and art lovers for generations to come.

Gracehoper stands 22.5 ft. tall, 23 ft. deep, and 46 ft. long. Weighing about 27 tons, the sculpture was constructed in six segments by the Industrial Welding Company of Newark, New Jersey. In 1972, each segment was assembled on site under the watchful eye of Smith. Constructed of bold modular forms based on multiples of tetrahedrons and octahedrons, the complex structure bridges the space between industrial fabrication and the natural environment.  At the time, Gracehoper was the largest outdoor sculpture to be assembled in the United States and Smith considered it to be among his most successful.

Smith said, "I think of the Gracehoper as intimate rather than monumental. People have some sensuous connection with this work. They can move around it, walk under it, go through it."

Tony Smith, Gracehoper notes. Courtesy the Tony Smith Estate, New York, as published in Tony Smith: Not an Object. Not a Monument. The Complete Large-Scale Sculpture. New York, 2007, 36.

Tony Smith (1912–80) was an architect, sculptor and painter, primarily known for his colossal geometric sculptures created in the last 20 years of his life. He is considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th century and is celebrated as a pioneering figure in the American minimalist art movement.


For more information about Tony Smith visit:

Tony Smith, 1966. Photo by Rudy Burckhardt. © 2013 Tony Smith Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Gracehoper's "funnel-like form," as Tony Smith described it, reminded him of the hoppers used to load coal onto railroad cars.

hopper cars

However, the title comes from the central passage of "The Ondt and The Gracehoper" in James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake. In the novel, the "Gracehoper" is an insect representing progress, change and dynamism, very much like Smith's own work.

Now whim the sillybilly of a Gracehoper had jingled through a jungle of love and debts and jangled through a jumble of life in doubts afterworse, wetting with the bimblebeaks, drik-king with nautonects, bilking with durrydunglecks and horing after ladybirdies... O moy Bog, he contrited with melan-ctholy. Meblizzered, him sluggered! I am heartily hungry!

James Joyce, Finnegan's Wake, III, 1, 416.08–20.

An excerpt from the 1968 CBS program "Art of the Sixties: The Walls Come Tumbling Down," highlighting Smith's work in the Detroit Institute of Arts' 1967 exhibition, Friends of Modern Art Annual: Form, Color, Image.


A 30-minute color film documenting the fabrication and installation of Gracehoper at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Filmed by former curatorial assistant Frank L. Kobert in 1972.

Gracehoper: a youthful view.

On October 12, 2013, students from InsideOut Literary Arts Project performed poems written in response to Tony Smith’s Gracehoper. The DIA thanks Justin Rogers, a veteran of iOs award-winning national Brave New Voices slam team, and students Kennedie King and Samuel Taylor for sharing their dynamic work.


Courtesy of Samuel Taylor and InsideOut Literary Arts Project.

So me and the gracehoper are friends and I asked him what do you say to someone who ask you where is your heart at The gracehoper said When someone ask me where is my heart at I tell them that it is trapped in there darkness That it is puzzled off into a corner that nobody cares to see because they don't know that it's there I tell them that they have to look outside the box because in these triangles shade can become comfort and you can forget what it's like to shine I tell them to walk pass the doubt To live in hope and not fear what's on the other side When someone ask me where is my heart at I tell them that I collected nickels to be born And rust to be rebuilt I tell them that i am not a sculpture I'm a insect who chooses to stand still tell them That your home is always where your heart is and see I haven't moved since 1972 I've molded into a map that pinpoints the beauty of Detroit So when someone ask me where is my heart at I tell them it's right next to yours

Miniscule in the scheme of things yet still mighty in its worth. Defining Grace.

Courtesy of Kennedie King and InsideOut Literary Arts Project.

Compared to my ultimate grace gifter and the normal grace recipient

My grace hath only given but a fraction of that unspecified amount 

And assuming that grace is the unmerited favor of God 

Because he loves 

Then the dark connectivity hanging low and close 

Only temporarily exempts me

From specifically chosen events 

But I caution you to not underestimate that that I hold close to me

For its might is greater than that of ten thousand men, muscle bond and strapped with tall fleshy hills 

glossed twice over

Encased in it is a love that cannot be explained with the English language alone

And though not as worthy as God himself 

Its worth surpasses mere monetary value or its color 

An entire heritage thrives in my low and close dark and shinny connectivity 

I reclaim my spiritual life 

In the running scheme of things I take back was once mine 

This old grace its meaning has been rapped, pop-locked and twerked out of existence 

What was once a symbol of my family being passed down from generation to generation

Now has a meaning that stands to be unclear

But no longer will I let it fluctuate

In and out of my existence it will not budge 

Temporary shall no longer be associated with my grace 

My grace in all its miniscule worthy might stays hanging low shinning dark and connectively around my neck.

God in multiple mediums

Courtesy of Justin Rogers and InsideOut Literary Arts Project.

If Gratiot Ave.

rusted thin

hollow life ancient utterance

black, grey, coal, dim fire and riot

happens to be the grace of God,

then Woodward is the devil

with its midtown painted metal

well inhabited street lights

lofts molded homes instead of

construction site.

If Gratiot is the grace of God

then God is low gloss steel

and American metal dust

keeping the depth

of an abandoned grocery store

from caving.

no one living across the street

will accept this.

If God is a bus that never comes

when expected

grace is living to tell

how that bus came eventually.

if Gratiot is a part of God

then Chicago is doomed

and New York is hell

Media portrayals of Afghanistan

is what writing the old testament

felt like

and the void of the ocean

is where angels are born

the crack epidemic was Jesus return

and Detroit is Judgment day.

Grace is hopping around like moon light

and God is darker

than what our eyes understand.

it is all in perception

all in accepting that we are witnessing

the same thing

each in separate manners.

How can you help? 

This conservation project was funded by donations from individuals, corporations and foundations. If you’d like to support this important project, you can make your donation to the DIA today.

Categories:  Conservation