The most comprehensive career retrospective in the U.S. to date of the work of Frank Stella, co-organized by The Whitney Museum of American Art and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, will debut at the Whitney this fall. Frank Stella: A Retrospective brings together the artist’s best-known works installed alongside lesser known examples to reveal the extraordinary scope and diversity of his nearly sixty-year career. Approximately 100 works, including icons of major museum and private collections, will be shown. Along with paintings, reliefs, sculptures, and prints, a selection of drawings and maquettes have been included to shed light on Stella’s conceptual and material process. Frank Stella: A Retrospective is organized by Michael Auping, Chief Curator, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, in association with Adam D. Weinberg, Alice Pratt Brown Director, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, with the involvement of Carrie Springer, Assistant Curator, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
The exhibition will be on view at the Whitney from October 30, 2015 through February 7, 2016, and at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth from April 17 through September 4, 2016; it will subsequently travel to the DeYoung Museum, San Francisco. This will be the inaugural special exhibition and the first career retrospective devoted to a living artist in the Whitney’s new downtown home on Gansevoort Street. It will fill the entire 18,000-square-foot fifth floor—the Museum’s largest gallery for temporary exhibitions. Annabelle Selldorf, Selldorf Architects, is doing the exhibition design for the Whitney installation.
“A Stella retrospective presents many challenges,” remarks Auping, “given Frank’s need from the beginning of his career to immediately and continually make new work in response to previous series. And he has never been timid about making large, even monumental, works. The result has been an enormous body of work represented by many different series. Our goal has been to summarize without losing the raw texture of his many innovations.”
“It’s not merely the length of his career, it is the intensity of his work and his ability to reinvent himself as an artist over and over again over six decades that make his contribution so important,” said Weinberg. “Frank is a radical innovator who has, from the beginning, absorbed the lessons of art history and then remade the world on his own artistic terms. He is a singular American master and we are thrilled to be celebrating his astonishing accomplishment.”
Born in Malden, Massachusetts, in 1936, Frank Stella attended Phillips Academy, Andover, and then Princeton University, where he studied art history and painting. In college, he produced a number of sophisticated paintings that demonstrated his understanding of the various vocabularies that had brought abstract painting into international prominence. After graduating in 1958, Stella moved to New York and achieved almost immediate fame with his Black Paintings (1958–60), which were included in The Museum of Modern Art’s seminal exhibition Sixteen Americans in 1959–60.
The Leo Castelli Gallery in New York held Stella’s first one-person show in 1962. The Museum of Modern Art, under William Rubin’s stewardship, presented his first retrospective only a few years later, in 1970, when Stella was only thirty-four years old. A second retrospective was held at MoMA in 1987. Since then, Stella has been the subject of countless exhibitions throughout the world, including a major retrospective in Wolfsburg in 2012. Frank Stella: A Retrospective is the first survey of the artist’s career in the U.S. since 1987. He was appointed the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University in 1983. “Working Space,” his provocative lecture series (later published as a book), addresses the issue of pictorial space in postmodern art. Stella has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the 2009 National Medal of Arts and the 2011 Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award from the International Sculpture Center, as well as the Isabella and Theodor Dalenson Lifetime Achievement Award from Americans for the Arts (2011) and the National Artist Award at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Aspen (2015).
Throughout his career, Stella has challenged the boundaries of painting and accepted notions of style. Though his early work allied him with the emerging minimalist approach, Stella’s style has evolved to become more complex and dynamic over the years as he has continued his investigation into the nature of abstract painting.
Adam Weinberg and Marla Price, Director of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, note in the directors’ foreword to the catalogue, “Abstract art constitutes the major, and in many ways, defining artistic statement of the twentieth century and it remains a strong presence in this century. Many artists have played a role in its development, but there are a few who stand out in terms of both their innovations and perseverance. Frank Stella is one of those. As institutions devoted to the history and continued development of contemporary art, we are honored to present this tribute to one of the greatest abstract painters of our time.”
The exhibition begins with rarely seen early works, such as East Broadway(1958), from the collection of Addison Gallery of American Art, which show Stella’s absorption of Abstract Expressionism and predilections for colors and composition that would appear throughout the artist’s career.
Stella’s highly acclaimed Black Paintings follow. Their black stripes executed with enamel house paint were a critical step in the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Minimalism. The exhibition includes such major works as Die Fahne hoch! (1959), a masterpiece from the Whitney’s own collection, and The Marriage of Reason and Squalor II (1959) from The Museum of Modern Art’s collection. A selection of the artist’s Aluminum and Copper Paintings of 1960–61, featuring metallic paint and shaped canvases, further establish Stella’s key role in the development of American Minimalism.
Even with his early success, Stella continued to experiment in order to advance the language of abstraction. The chronological presentation of Stella’s work tracks the artist’s exploration of the relationship between color, structure, and abstract illusionism, beginning with his Benjamin Moore series and Concentric Square Paintings of the early 1960s and 70s—including the masterpiece Jasper’s Dilemma (1962). In his Dartmouth, Notched V, and Running V paintings, Stella combines often shocking color with complex shaped canvases that mirror the increasingly dynamic movement of his painted bands. These were followed by the even more radically shaped Irregular Polygon Paintings, such as Chocorua IV (1966) from the Hood Museum, with internally contrasting geometric forms painted in vibrant fluorescent hues; and the monumental Protractor Paintings, such as Harran II (1967) from the Guggenheim‘s collection, composed of curvilinear forms with complex chromatic variations. Continue reading