Magazine article Artforum International

Frank Stella

Magazine article Artforum International

Frank Stella

Article excerpt


Frank Stella is too much. His art and career have always been outsize in every sense, from the less-than-zero "Black Paintings" of 1959--60 to the giant, Day-Glo late-'60s "Protractor" series and wild relief paintings of the '70s and '80s. Each time he realizes a personal breakthrough in his work, he expects to pull the world along with him, to effect a paradigm shift in modernism. Such audacity has bagged him no less than two full-scale MOMA retrospectives, but the work has met with diminishing returns and increasing skepticism. By his third retrospective, the take-no-prisoners rubric under which he and curator Bonnie Clearwater classed his new output--"Changing the Rules"--may have amounted to a folie [grave{a}] deux.

This was a really big show: forty-foot paintings, giant hunk-of-metal sculptures, a large-scale model for a forthcoming band- shell in downtown Miami; even the smaller sculptures doubled as potential architecturally scaled works. Like the Abstract Expressionists and Minimalists, throughout his career Stella has confronted the problem of how not to make easel pictures or bread box--size "objects." His ambition has always demanded more space and size--the mural, the relief--even when he tried to define the limits of painting.

This exhibition comprised many variations on the theme of expanding painting. The most straightforward were the reliefs titled[ldots]an den Ufern der Aar ([ldots]on the banks of the Aar), 1998, in which brightly colored aluminum forms twist out from painted rectangular panels. The strangest was Severambia, 1996, a curving, freestanding fiberglass wall painting that looks like Tilted Arc after a thorough graffiti hit; Kenny Scharf comes to mind as much as Fabian Marcaccio. In this piece, as in the huge paintings on canvas (his first since the '70s) like Das Erdbeben in Chili (Earth quake in Chile), 1999, Stella uses an elaborate technique to get the paint on. First, he amasses a certain amount of printed material, much of it produced by master printer Ken Tyler. Some of these abstractions are computer generated, often deriving from organic forms like smoke rings a new signature) and soap bubbles. With these materials Stella then creates roughly half-scale collages that are photographed and projected onto a su rface. Finally, scenery painters meticulously reproduce the projections, but even that's not simple: While some of the dots, lines, and splotches are painted directly, others are cast in acrylic and laminated onto the final work Severambia shifts uneasily between illusion and 3-D reality.

Echoing this tension, the large aluminum and steel sculptures were relatively flat, suggesting tables (Peach Bottom, 1991) or walls (the "Chatal Huyuk" series, 1999). Stella refers to the latter, mounted on large metal stands, as "Easel Paintings"; with cast and found metal tracing comparatively delicate lines against an imposingly solid backdrop, they have the pictorial quality of an early David Smith. Their bullying, macho rawness initially repels, but the overall form and proportion is surprisingly pleasing.

Perhaps the strangest development here was that of a kind of para-architecture. This included small metal sculptures like Zimming, 1992, which can only be described as ugly. Stella envisions them as potentially huge public projects. …

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