In 1962, the New Jersey architect Tony Smith (1912-1980) read an ad for the Industrial Welding Company in Newark: "You specify it: We fabricate it." So he called and ordered "Die," a six-foot steel cube now at the National Gallery of Art. "Die" is a great piece of mid-20th-century minimalism. That's because it's more than minimalist. "Die" is a knuckle piece. It links minimalism to conceptualism, and both to the dark shadows of abstract-expressionist angst. "Die" is pure conception, an idea made manifest. It's also blank and irrefutable, which makes it minimalist. Smith's piece at the same time is spookily evocative -- "Die" as in dice, "Die" as in dying. Pure geometry is immortal and unaging, "Die" is rusting. It puns on fate. Too big to be an "object," too small to be a monument, "Die" confronts one heavily. It's as tall as a grave is deep.

-- Paul Richard

The Collectors Committee of the National Gallery of Art gave "Die" to the museum in 2003. Tony Smith's sculpture is installed on the mezzanine of East Building. The gallery, Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue NW, is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and on Sunday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Admission is free.