American Master, Frank Stella: Polish Villages
Lévy Gorvy, Hong Kong
May 24 - July 27, 2019
Lévy Gorvy, Hong Kong, presented American Master, Frank Stella: Polish Villages (2019), featuring assemblages from Frank Stella’s seminal Polish Village series (1970–74). Stella was inspired to create this series by the seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century wooden synagogues in Eastern Poland that were destroyed by the Nazis during World War II. The series marks his first direct engagement with the relief. American Master: Frank Stella: Polish Villages was the first exhibition in Greater China ever dedicated to Stella’s work.
The Polish Village series emerged following the artist’s first retrospective, which opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in March 1970 when Stella was just 34 years old; at the time, he was the youngest artist ever to receive a full-scale retrospective in the institution’s history. Stella felt ambivalent about the formal debates surrounding his exhibition amid the turbulence of the Vietnam War, and the Polish Village works comprise his poignant response. Inspired by Maria and Kazimierz Piechotka’s book Wooden Synagogues (Arkady, 1959), in which the Jewish architecture experts compiled photographs and line drawings of seventy-one synagogues documented during an architectural survey in the 1920s and ’30s, the Polish Village works share affinities with the angular architectures and sophisticated carpentry of the synagogues. Each of Stella’s compositions—named for the structures pictured in the book—appears in several materially and formally distinct versions. In Artforum in 2016, Stella described an underlying concept of the series: where modernism’s constructivist line can be traced from Moscow to Berlin via Warsaw, this path is mirrored in reverse by the course of the Nazis, who ruined these sacral sites.