Smith created Fermi as an homage to Enrico Fermi, the Nobel Prize-winning Italian physicist who investigated quantum theory and atomic structures. The balls, connecting bonds, and grid of the work are said to resemble the greatly magnified particles of an atom, though the work can also be simply admired for its uncomplicated elegance.
Smith’s work often begins with a modular system or forms based on regular and irregular polyhedrals. In Fermi, acquired by Henry T. Segerstrom in 1975, Smith directs the viewer to consider the complex structure of nature while offering up a form that can also be appreciated for its uncomplicated elegance.
Physical phenomena like momentum, velocity, weight, and counterweight interested Smith, and he was able to bring these principles together and manipulate them. Sculptors have explored how one understands weight and volume since the beginning of the art form. Modernist artists understood these measures by penetrating them but Smith did so by changing them into mass. Ultimately, Smith shied away from referring to his three-dimensional works as sculptures, instead calling them “presences.” Smith is often cited as the leading sculptor of the proto-Minimalist wing of Abstract Expressionism.