Frank Stella gave us a new point of view, a new way of looking at a work of art. “What you see is what you see” is the way Stella broke it down.
Stella arrived in New York in 1958, at age 22, after completing a history degree at Princeton. During that period, the art galleries he visited were filled with the paintings of abstract expressionists and pop artists who were exploring new ways of creating, and thinking about, art.
What Frank Stella did, in 1959, was to create a series called Black Paintings, that demonstrated his belief that, “a painting is a flat surface with paint on it.” All the emotion that a viewer brings when looking at a landscape or a still life, the emotions that the artist may have even been trying to evoke, was something that Stella took out of his work.
He created his Black Paintings series, shown at MoMa, an exhibit that jump-started his long career as one of America’s most valued artists. One of the Black Paintings series is painted on a 6 foot by 10 foot canvas. It consists of a pattern of parallel black stripes, painted with black enamel house paint defined by areas of blank canvas. Though the form of the painting has no emotional content, Stella called it, Die Fahne Hoch! (The Raised Banner), which was the first line of the Nazi party’s anthem.
So, though Stella asks the viewer to see the painting as a flat surface with paint on it, he gives it an emotionally charged title…and a lot to think about. Die Fahne Hoch! is part of the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum in New York.
Stella was so loved by critics, that art critic, Barbara Rose, married him in 1961. Stella’s work evolved with the use of color and material. He began to create screenprints, lithographs and etchings in the 1960s and had a print studio installed in his New York house.
We have been fortunate, at Vertu, to have acquired many of Stella’s most interesting fine art prints, like Black Stack, a limited edition lithograph of 56 that he did in 1970. The design of Black Stack is a portent of Stella’s interest in sculpture and architectural design.
Stella’s sculptures and murals have been displayed in public venues around the world. In 1991, he was commissioned to create murals for the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto. HIs three-dimensional murals cover the ceiling dome of the auditorium, the walls of the lobby, the lounges, the boxed seats and the outside back wall of the theater. The theater was slated for demolition in 2012, but public outcry spared the theater from the wrecking ball.
Closer to home, Stella designed an aluminum bandshell for Miami, but cost overruns and disputes with Miami-Dade County turned the project in a new direction. The bandshell now sits outside the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.
At 78, Stella is still working in New York and his pieces, which sometimes cost a fortune to build, are sold for millions of dollars. His prints and lithographs, fortunately for us, are more affordable and easier to hang than many of his sculptures, and are available at our Vertu gallery.