Frank Stella 

“The idea in being a painter is to declare an identity. Not just my identity, an identity for me, but an identity big enough for everyone to share in. Isn’t that what it’s all about?”

Frank Stella

In the late 1950s, Frank Stella revolutionized abstraction by merging the flat restraint of Jasper Johns with the formal, geometric shapes of abstract expressionism. With a reductive painting process that involved prosaic procedures and systemic variation, he discarded illusionistic space to emphasize the two-dimensional surface, paving a way for the Minimalist movement. For more than six decades, his career has been marked by constant innovation, moving through series that eventually came to embrace narrative and a formal abundance he termed “maximalism.”

Born in Malden, Massachusetts, in 1936 and based in New York, Stella studied history and studio art at Princeton University, graduating with a BA in 1958. That same year, he moved to New York and initiated his Black Paintings(1958–60)—bands of matte enamel delineated by pinstripes of raw canvas—whose compositions were determined by the scale of the canvas and paintbrush. In 1959, when Stella was only twenty-three years old, these paintings appeared in the seminal exhibition Sixteen Americans at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Leo Castelli Gallery in New York mounted an exhibition of his Aluminum Paintingsin 1960. Stella was included in such critical New York exhibitions as Geometric Abstraction (1962) at the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Shaped Canvas (1964–65) and Systemic Painting (1966), both at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. With his Irregular Polygon (1965–67) and Protractor (1967–71) series, he expanded his experimentation with color and the shaped canvas. In 1970, Stella became the youngest artist ever to receive a full-scale retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. That decade, he began making series of increasingly elaborate relief constructions on canvas and aluminum, including Polish Village (1970–73) and Exotic Bird Paintings (1976–80). Departing from his hard-edged style, his sculptural works began to incorporate baroque patterns, fluorescent colors, gestural brushstrokes, and architectural elements. His Moby-Dickseries (1985–97) of 260 prints, sculptures, and reliefs considered the illustrative potential of abstraction.

During a 1982 residency at the American Academy in Rome, Stella researched the legacy of Caravaggio and Rubens. This led to the content of his Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard University (1983–84), which proposed baroque painting might offer solutions to the crisis in abstraction. These talks were published by Harvard University Press under the title Working Space (1986). Stella participated in Documenta (1968, 1977), the Venice Biennale (1978), and the Whitney Biennial (1973, 1979, 1983). In 1987, the Museum of Modern Art held a second retrospective of his work, followed by major retrospectives at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany (2012) and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2015). Among his numerous honors, in 2009, Stella received the National Medal of Arts from President Obama.


Selected Artworks

    • Frank Stella
    • Kozandgrodek I, 1973
    • Felt, canvas, and paint on board
    • 103 × 105 inches (251.6 × 266.7 cm)
    • Frank Stella
    • BAFT, 1965
    • Alkyd on canvas
    • 90 × 108 inches (228.6 × 274.5 cm)
    • Frank Stella
    • Slieve More, 1964
    • Metallic powder in polymer emulsion on canvas
    • 76⅞ × 81¼ inches (195.3 × 206.4 cm)
    • Frank Stella
    • Delaware Crossing, 1961
    • Oil on canvas
    • 12 × 12 inches (30.5 × 30.5 cm)

Selected Press