Thursday, November 19, 2015

Frank Stella Retrospective at the Whitney Museum

By Charles Kessler

There is little I can add to Roberta Smith's enthusiastic review of Frank Stella: A Retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art (through Feb. 7th), and there are many good reproductions of the work on the Whitney's website. What I can do here is provide some additional installation views of the exhibition so that you can get an idea of the tremendous scale of this extravagant, innovative, outrageous, sometimes completely bonkers art. I also provide some close-up views to show the variety of textures and layers.
Paintings from 1958-59, the earliest work in the exhibition.
Panoramic installation view of Stella's earlier work.
Click to enlarge. 
Stella uses colors arbitrarily, to distinguish one shape from another. His colors don't resonate, interact or harmonize the way, say, Matisse's colors do. But that's asking Stella to be something he is not.
Frank Stella, Damascus Gate (Stretch Variation III), 1970. alkyd on canvas, 120 × 600 inches (The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; museum purchase funded by Alice Pratt Brown).
The Whitney's walls are not curved; this distortion typically happens with panoramic images.
Panoramic installation view of work from Stella's middle periods.
Click to enlarge.
St. Michael's Counterguard, 1984, mixed media on aluminum and fiberglass honeycomb, 156 x 135 x 108 inches (Los Angeles County Museum of Art).
Close-up side view of St. Michael's Counterguard, 1984.
On the left, Raft of the Medusa (Part I), 1990, aluminum and steel, 167 × 163 × 159 inches (The Glass House, A Site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation).
Close-up detail, Raft of the Medusa (Part I), 1990.

In Stella's later work, he employs bright color, vigorous brushwork, and rhythmic line to enliven things; often these paintings are so active and aggressive they feel like an attack. The later work is very public, i.e., not intimate; it's meant for large public spaces like corporate lobbies or museums – abstract Pop Art, if you will. It's just that seeing a lot of them together is exhausting.

The reproduction below is of a huge, sixty-seven color print!
The Fountain, 1992, woodcut, etching, aquatint, drypoint, collage and airbrush, (printed and published by Tyler Graphics, Ltd., Whitney Museum of American Art).
Close-up detail,  The Fountain, 1992.
Das Erdbeben in Chili [N#3], 1999. acrylic on canvas, 144 × 486 inches, (private collection. © 2015 Frank Stella/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York).

Close-up view of Das Erdbeben in Chili [N#3], 1999.
On the left, K.81 combo (K.37 and K.43) large size, 2009. protogen RPT with stainless steel tubing, 180 × 192 × 120 inches (private collection. © 2015 Frank Stella/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York). I didn't get information on the painting on the right. 

1 comment:

Carl Belz said...

I thought Stella looked great. What I particularly liked was the fact that Stella's enterprise is, first and last and always, about art--not social or political issues, not race or gender or ethnicity, and not theory, it's "just" about art. I guess I'm revealing my generational roots, but I was nonetheless thrilled to look at work that embodies values that inspired me when I got involved with art in the first place, values that remain meaningful for me in the present. I know, you've got to get past the bravura from time to time, the image of Frank alone carrying the abstractionist banner, the corporate look, but for me the rewards outweigh those risks--against the grain of what's currently fashionable (think momentarily of irony and provisional abstraction) they're reminders of what art on its highest level of ambition can be.