Architectural thought has always informed Frank Stella's work, from the late 1950s when he shared a studio in New York with the architect Richard Meier to his recent stint as a professor at the Yale University School of Architecture. His early paintings, in black, aluminum, and copper paint, were forceful statements of a restrained, minimalist, and architectonic aesthetic. His later, explosive, wall reliefs anticipated the formal vocabulary made famous by Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, and other architects working in an expressionist mode. But since 1989, he has become increasingly consumed with designing structures and conceiving buildings himself.
Even those who have been following Stella's meteoric development over the last fifty years will be surprised by the youthful exuberance of his foray into architecture. None of his projects has yet been built, although he has come tantalizingly close to realizing an addition to a museum in Groningen; a Kunsthalle and garden complex in Dresden; a museum and sculpture park in Buenos Aires; a band shell in Miami; and a gatehouse for a prominent collector.
Among the works currently on view in "Frank Stella: Painting into Architecture" are Sunapee II (1966), an oil painting with–like many of Stella's other works–a shaped canvas emphasizing its object-like nature; important models such as First Model Kunsthalle Dresden (1991); three models for Chinese Pavilion, including one in bronze from 1993, one in brass from 2005, and a 2007 carbon epoxy composite, displayed on the Roof Garden due to its enormous size; and a large fiberglass-and-carbon-fiber section of a building-in-progress called The Ship.
About the Artist
Born in 1936 in Malden, Massachusetts, Stella moved to New York in 1958 after graduating from Princeton University, where he painted and earned a bachelor of arts degree in history. He garnered immediate recognition for his early and influential series of minimalist Black paintings (1958–60), in which he covered the entire field of the canvas with symmetrical patterns of bands of black paint separated by narrow interstices of unpainted canvas. Following this series came the 1960 Aluminum series and the 1960–61 Copper series of metallic paintings on shaped canvases (paintings whose shapes resulted from the serial progression of the bands, or stripes, of the composition). In the 1960s, Stella employed a wider range of paint colors and further exploited the concept of the shaped canvas in a variety of series, culminating in the Irregular Polygon series of paintings (1965–67)–his first with large, geometric areas of unbroken color–and the curvilinear Protractor series (1967–71). In the mid-1960s, Stella embarked on what has become a career-long commitment to printmaking.
During the 1970s–a time of dramatic change in his work–Stella introduced relief into his art (characterized as "maximalist" painting, for its sculptural qualities), initiated by the large-scale, constructed Polish Village series of collage-reliefs (1971–73). He then began to use aluminum as the primary support for his paintings, as in the fanciful and freely painted Exotic Birds series (1976–80) and the more exaggerated and garishly colored Indian Birds series (1978–79). As the 1980s progressed, with such series as Circuit, Shards, South African Mines, Malta, and Cones and Pillars, the artist's work became increasingly baroque in character, improvisational in aesthetic, explosive with high color, and infused with energy and exuberance. With the Moby Dick series (1986–97), the progressively deep relief of Stella's paintings gave way to full three-dimensionality. In the 1990s, having consistently tested the limits of the conventions of painting, Stella began producing freestanding metal sculpture–often on a massive scale–and developing full-fledged architectural projects.