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Frank Stella

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Title: Frank Stella  
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Subject: 20th-century Western painting, Western painting, History of painting, Late modernism, Minimalism (visual arts)
Collection: 1936 Births, 20Th-Century American Artists, 20Th-Century American Painters, 20Th-Century American Sculptors, 21St-Century American Artists, 21St-Century American Painters, 21St-Century American Sculptors, American Abstract Artists, American Contemporary Artists, American Muralists, American Painters, American People of Italian Descent, American Printmakers, Art Students League of New York People, Artists from New York City, Harvard University People, Living People, Minimalist Artists, Modern Painters, Modern Sculptors, Painters from Massachusetts, Paintings by Frank Stella, People from Malden, Massachusetts, People from Manhattan, Phillips Academy Alumni, Princeton University Alumni, Rome Prize Winners, United States National Medal of Arts Recipients
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Frank Stella

Frank Stella
1964 photo of Frank Stella by Ugo Mulas
Born Frank Philip Stella
(1936-05-12) May 12, 1936
Malden, Massachusetts
Nationality American
Known for Painting, Printmaking, Sculpture, Architecture
Movement Modernism, Minimal art, Abstract expressionism, Geometric abstraction, Abstract Illusionism, Lyrical abstraction, Hard-edge painting, Shaped canvas painting, Color field painting
Awards 1984 Harvard University Charles Eliot Norton lectures
Frank Stella La scienza della pigrizia (The Science of Laziness) 1984, oil, enamel paint and alkyd paint on canvas, etched magnesium, aluminum and fiberglass, National Gallery of Art Washington DC

Frank Stella (born May 12, 1936) is an American painter and printmaker, noted for his work in the areas of minimalism and post-painterly abstraction. Stella continues to live and work in New York.


  • Biography 1
  • Work 2
    • Late 1950s and early 1960s 2.1
    • Late 1960s and early 1970s 2.2
    • 1980s and afterward 2.3
  • Artists' rights 3
  • Exhibitions 4
  • Collections 5
  • Recognition 6
  • Art market 7
  • Gallery 8
  • Interviews 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


Stella was born in Malden, Massachusetts, to parents of Italian descent.[1] His father was a gynecologist, and his mother was an artistically inclined housewife who attended fashion school and later took up landscape painting.[2]

After attending high school at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, he attended Princeton University, where he majored in history and met Darby Bannard and Michael Fried. Early visits to New York art galleries influenced his artist development, and his work was influenced by the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline. Stella moved to New York in 1958, after his graduation. He is one of the most well-regarded postwar American painters still working today. He is heralded for creating abstract paintings that bear no pictorial illusions or psychological or metaphysical references in twentieth-century painting.[3]

Today, Stella lives in the Greenwich Village and keeps an office there but commutes on weekdays to his studio in Rock Tavern, New York.[2]


Late 1950s and early 1960s

Upon moving to New York City, he reacted against the expressive use of paint by most painters of the abstract expressionist movement, instead finding himself drawn towards the "flatter" surfaces of Barnett Newman's work and the "target" paintings of Jasper Johns. He began to produce works which emphasized the picture-as-object, rather than the picture as a representation of something, be it something in the physical world, or something in the artist's emotional world. Stella married Barbara Rose, later a well-known art critic, in 1961. Around this time he said that a picture was "a flat surface with paint on it - nothing more". This was a departure from the technique of creating a painting by first making a sketch. Many of the works are created by simply using the path of the brush stroke, very often using common house paint.

This new aesthetic found expression in a series of new paintings, the Black Paintings (59) in which regular bands of black paint were separated by very thin pinstripes of unpainted canvas. Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College, as well as in "Sixteen Americans" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (60).

From 1960 Stella began to produce paintings in aluminium and copper paint which, in their presentation of regular lines of color separated by pinstripes, are similar to his black paintings. However they use a wider range of colors, and are his first works using shaped canvases (canvases in a shape other than the traditional rectangle or square), often being in L, N, U or T-shapes. These later developed into more elaborate designs, in the Irregular Polygon series (67), for example.

Also in the 1960s, Stella began to use a wider range of colors, typically arranged in straight or curved lines. Later he began his Protractor Series (71) of paintings, in which arcs, sometimes overlapping, within square borders are arranged side-by-side to produce full and half circles painted in rings of concentric color. These paintings are named after circular cities he had visited while in the Middle East earlier in the 1960s. The Irregular Polygon canvases and Protractor series further extended the concept of the shaped canvas.

Late 1960s and early 1970s

Frank Stella Harran II 1967

Stella began his extended engagement with printmaking in the mid-1960s, working first with master printer Kenneth Tyler at Gemini G.E.L. Stella produced a series of prints during the late 1960s starting with a print called Quathlamba I in 1968. Stella's abstract prints in lithography, screenprinting, etching and offset lithography (a technique he introduced) had a strong impact upon printmaking as an art.

In 1967, he designed the set and costumes for Scramble, a dance piece by Merce Cunningham. The Museum of Modern Art in New York presented a retrospective of Stella’s work in 1970, making him the youngest artist to receive one. During the following decade, Stella introduced relief into his art, which he came to call “maximalist” painting for its sculptural qualities. Ironically, the paintings that had brought him fame before 1960 had eliminated all such depth. The shaped canvases took on even less regular forms in the Eccentric Polygon series, and elements of collage were introduced, pieces of canvas being pasted onto plywood, for example. His work also became more three-dimensional to the point where he started producing large, free-standing metal pieces, which, although they are painted upon, might well be considered sculpture. After introducing wood and other materials in the Polish Village series (73), created in high relief, he began to use aluminum as the primary support for his paintings. As the 1970s and 1980s progressed, these became more elaborate and exuberant. Indeed, his earlier Minimalism [more] became baroque, marked by curving forms, Day-Glo colors, and scrawled brushstrokes. Similarly, his prints of these decades combined various printmaking and drawing techniques. In 1973, he had a print studio installed in his New York house. In 1976, Stella was commissioned by BMW to paint a BMW 3.0 CSL for the second installment in the BMW Art Car Project. He has said of this project, "The starting point for the art cars was racing livery. In the old days there used to be a tradition of identifying a car with its country by color. Now they get a number and they get advertising. It’s a paint job, one way or another. The idea for mine was that it’s from a drawing on graph paper. The graph paper is what it is, a graph, but when it’s morphed over the car’s forms it becomes interesting, and adapting the drawing to the racing car’s forms is interesting. Theoretically it’s like painting on a shaped canvas."

In 1969, Stella was commissioned to create a logo for the Metropolitan Museum of Art Centennial. Medals incorporating the design were struck to mark the occasion.[4]

1980s and afterward

Stella's Memantra in the Metropolitan Museum of Art Roof Garden

From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, Stella created a large body of work that responded in a general way to Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.[5] During this time, the increasingly deep relief of Stella’s paintings gave way to full three-dimensionality, with sculptural forms derived from cones, pillars, French curves, waves, and decorative architectural elements. To create these works, the artist used collages or maquettes that were then enlarged and re-created with the aids of assistants, industrial metal cutters, and digital technologies.[5]

In the 1990s, Stella began making free-standing sculpture for public spaces and developing architectural projects. In 1993, for example, he created the entire decorative scheme for Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre, which includes a 10,000-square-foot mural. His 1993 proposal for a Kunsthalle and garden in Dresden did not come to fruition. In 1997, he painted and oversaw the installation of the 5,000-square-foot "Stella Project" which serves as the centerpiece of the theater and lobby of the Moores Opera House located at the Rebecca and John J. Moores School of Music on the campus of the University of Houston, in Houston, TX.[6][7] His aluminum bandshell, inspired by a folding hat from Brazil, was built in downtown Miami in 2001; a monumental Stella sculpture was installed outside the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Stella's wall-hung Scarlatti K Series was triggered by the harpsichord sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti and the writings of the U.S. 20th-century harpsichord virtuoso and musicologist Ralph Kirkpatrick, who made the sonatas widely known. (The title's "K" refers to Kirkpatrick's chronology numbers.) Scarlatti wrote more than 500 keyboard sonatas; Stella's series today includes about 150 works.[8]

From 1978 to 2005, Stella owned the Van Tassell and Kearney Horse Auction Mart building in Manhattan's East Village and used it as his studio. His nearly 30-year stewardship of the building resulted in the facade being cleaned and restored.[9] After a six-year campaign by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, in 2012 the historic building was designated a New York City Landmark.[10] After 2005, Stella split his time between his West Village apartment and his Newburgh, New York studio.[11]

Artists' rights

Stella remains active in protecting the rights for his fellow artists. On June 6, 2008, Stella (with Artists Rights Society president Theodore Feder; Stella is a member artist of the Artists Rights Society[12]) published an Op-Ed for The Art Newspaper decrying a proposed U.S. Orphan Works law which "remove[s] the penalty for copyright infringement if the creator of a work, after a diligent search, cannot be located."

In the Op-Ed, Stella wrote,


Stella’s work was included in several important exhibitions that defined 1960s art, among them the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s The Shaped Canvas (1965) and Systemic Painting (1966). The Museum of Modern Art in New York presented a retrospective of Stella’s work in 1970.[5] His art has since been the subject of several retrospectives in the United States, Europe, and Japan. In 2012, a retrospective of Stella's career was shown at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg.[14] In 2015, The Whitney Museum of American Art is presenting a retrospective of Stella’s career to date. The show will feature approximately one hundred twenty works, including paintings, reliefs, maquettes, sculptures, and drawings.


Stella's work is included in major international collections, including the Menil Collection, Houston; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; National Gallery of Art; the Toledo Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. In 2014, Stella gave his sculpture Adjoeman (2004) as a long-term loan to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.[15]


Among the many honors he has received was an invitation from Harvard University to give the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures in 1984. Calling for a rejuvenation of abstraction by achieving the depth of baroque painting,[16] these six talks were published by Harvard University Press in 1986 under the title Working Space.[17]

In 2009, Frank Stella was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama.[18] In 2011, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award in Contemporary Sculpture by the International Sculpture Center.

Art market

Stella joined dealer Leo Castelli’s stable of artists in 1959. Since 2014, he has been represented worldwide in an exclusive arrangement shared by Dominique Lévy Gallery and Marianne Boesky.[19][20]



  • De Antonio, Emile (director), Painters Painting: The New York Art Scene: 1940-1970, 1973. Arthouse films


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Deborah Solomon (September 7, 2015), The Whitney Taps Frank Stella for an Inaugural Retrospective at Its New Home New York Times.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Finding aid for the George Trescher records related to The Metropolitan Museum of Art Centennial, 1949, 1960-1971 (bulk 1967-1970). The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 8 August 2014.
  5. ^ a b c Frank Stella Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
  6. ^ About the Stella Project in the Moores Opera House
  7. ^
  8. ^ Karen Wilkin (June 23, 2011), Complementary Abstractionists Wall Street Journal.
  9. ^ 128 East 13th Street [1] Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.
  10. ^
  11. ^ Sightlines: Frank Stella Wall Street Journal, March 15, 2010.
  12. ^ Artists Rights Society's List of Most Frequently Requested Artists
  13. ^ Frank Stella, "The proposed new law is a nightmare for artists," The Art Newspaper, June 6, 2008.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Deborah Vankin (July 7, 2014), Abstract Frank Stella sculpture 'Adjoeman' joins Cedars-Sinai artworks Los Angeles Times.
  16. ^ John Russell (March 18, 1984), Frank Stella at Harvard - The Artist as Lecturer New York Times.
  17. ^ Frank Stella, Working Space (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), ISBN 0-674-95961-2. Listing at Harvard University Press website.
  18. ^ White House Announces 2009 National Medal of Arts Recipients
  19. ^ Carol Vogel (March 20, 2014), Seasonal Changes New York Times.
  20. ^

More references

  • Busch, Julia M.: A decade of sculpture: the 1960s, Associated University Presses, 1974; ISBN 0-87982-007-1
  • Frank Stella and Franz-Joachim Verspohl: The Writings of Frank Stella. Die Schriften Frank Stellas, Verlag der Buchhandlung König, 2001; ISBN 3-88375-487-0, ISBN 978-3-88375-487-1 (bilingual)
  • Frank Stella and Franz-Joachim Verspohl: Heinrich von Kleist by Frank Stella, Verlag der Buchhandlung König, 2001; ISBN 3-88375-488-9, ISBN 978-3-88375-488-8 (bilingual)
  • [2]
  • Frank Stella and Siri Engberg: Frank Stella at Tyler Graphics, Walker Art Center, 1997; ISBN 9780935640588

External links

  • Frank Stella in the National Gallery of Australia's Kenneth Tyler Collection
  • Word Symbol Space An exhibition featuring work by Frank Stella at The Jewish Museum, NY.
  • Frank Stella interviewed by Robert Ayers, March 2009
  • Works of art, auction & sale results, exhibitions, and artist information for Frank Stella on artnet
  • Guggenheim Museum online Biography of Frank Stella
  • Stella's work in the Guggenheim Collection
  • Stella mural installation, Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto
  • Frank Stella: An Illustrated Biography by Sidney Guberman
  • Frank Stella Papers at the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art
  • Frank Stella: Scarlatti and Bali Sculpture Series / Paracelsus Building, St. Moritz. Video at VernissageTV.
  • Frank Stella 1958 poet William Corbett writes about the exhibition titled Frank Stella 1958 at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University Cambridge, Massachusetts February 4–May 7, 2006
  • Laying the Tracks Others Followed; Early Work at L&M Arts; New York Times; Roberta Smith; April 26, 2012
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