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Frank Stella
in Fort Worth: A Retrospective

A joint exhibition of the work of Frank Stella presented by the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and curated by their Chief Curator Richard Auping, opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York late last year till early this. It's in Fort Worth April 17 through September 18, 2016 then travels to the de Young Museum in San Francisco, November 5, 2016 through February 26, 2017. "This is the first comprehensive Stella exhibition to be assembled in the United States since his 1987 retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art, New York."

Museum Gallery Hours Tue 10 am - 7 pm (Jun-Jul, Sep-Nov, Feb-Apr) Tue-Sun 10 am-5 pm Fri 10 am-8 pm. General Admission Prices $4 for students with ID and seniors (60+) $10 for adults (13+). Free for children 12 and under, Free for Modern members, Free every Sunday and half-price every Wednesday. The Museum is closed Mondays and holidays.


The New Pieces by Frank Stella - all three-dimensional - Photograph Copyright 2016 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

The Frank Stella work I came to see: L to R:  K.144 - 2013;   K.144 - 2013;   K.81 combo (K.37 plus K.43);  and Tusk Solid Gray 3000
Can you tell which were digitally created and which were analog fabricated like a sculptor sculpts?

I was too busy being amazed by the inner and under details in the most recent large sculptures in Stella's retrospective at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth to stay glued to the show's Curator Richard Auping's tour talk about the Stella's historic work leading to these, although I explored some that caught my eye below. Alone in a big room with strangely-shaped, organic and mechanical machines too absorbing to stand receptive in local journalist mode while a curator spoke about flatwork, although I did find several interesting 2D pieces, also.

This page begins with the most recent work in the retrospective,
then back in time via selected work down this page to the 1950s.


Frank Stella - hornPhotograph Copyright 2016 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

Frank Stella   K.144   2013

I fell hard for Stella's sculpture the second time I subscribed to Art in America either in the last decade or the one before. I always have great intentions with art magazines, but I rarely follow through to catch up with all the gibberish, though I do look at a lot of pictures. I'd got used to seeing Stella's big stripe paintings even when they started going round curves, then a little off the wall, then a lot. But after decades of them, I turned off.

So when a long, delicious series of ads from Stella's gallery showed another new, big, colorful one, way more than just inching into the third dimension every month, I tuned in and watched for them, excited at each new turn, wondering if I'd ever visually explore what were the most interesting and exciting thing in every new issue.

So when I heard that the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth would be on the short list of national museums hosting his retrospective, I hoped against hope, there'd be some of those in the mix. I accepted their invitation to do a fine little breakfast and the tour and spent most of it making these photographs and figuring it all out. I photographed many more pieces, but these were either my favorites or the most important, sometimes both.

textured fabric circles - cpry

Frank Stella   K.144   2013

I spent most of my time staring at four pieces, taking closer and closer photos and thinking how they were put together and why. I could always hear the curator's practised patter bouncing into the studio I occupied from wherever the middle-level local art journalists were touring. But when A us ping led the smallish press crowd into the earlier 3D antecedents of these large, colorful, strangely marked and shaped works from late last century into this one, I strode into that room and paid rapt attention. I even recorded much of it on my ancient MP3 recorder, and I tried to stay close, so I could catch more of his words and ideas, as we paraded through the galleries.

Note the extensive similarities between this piece and Stella's 1984 piece definitely not in this show titled St. Michael's Counterguard — mixed media on aluminium and fiberglass honeycomb, 156 x 135 x 108 inches. This new one's color contrasts are more subtle, but it's still difficult to tell which is which, except I've never even seen the earlier one.

Frank Stella - K144 - 2013 - Photograph Copyright 2016 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

Frank Stella   K.144   2013

Maybe because it's the biggest, most straightforward piece whose lesser parts were most obvious, I liked this big brown cantilevered and counterbalanced flywheel best. It looks and apparently is analog, not printed on a big 3D printer, but having access to a 3D-dee printer — and access to technicians who know how to use it — must be amazing. Auping said he'd asked Stella whether he had to teach his fabricators how to work "his" magic, but Stella told him, "They are teaching me."

also in 2013

Frank Stella - K144 - 2013 - Photograph Copyright 2016 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

Frank Stella K.144, 2013. ABS RPT with stainless steel, 80 × 97 × 53 inches

What all the ABS RPT in the media portion of these captions means is that the whole piece except the stainless rods was 3D printed. Might have something to do with how small it is, compared with the grander works in that same large gallery with its glass-enclosed porch out almost into the pond beyond. But, I suspect, not for long.

When I searched for ABS, I got exercise stories, but when I searched for it "in the context of 3-D printing," I learned that:

"ABS is a printable polymer which allows the surface finish to be smoothed and improved using chemical vapor processes. Some additive manufacturing techniques are capable of using multiple materials in the course of constructing parts. These techniques are able to print in multiple colors and color combinations simultaneously, and would not necessarily require painting.

Some printing techniques require internal supports to be built for overhanging features during construction. These supports must be mechanically removed or dissolved upon completion of the print. All of the commercialized metal 3D printers involve cutting the metal component off the metal substrate after deposition. A new process for the GMAW 3D printing allows for substrate surface modifications to remove aluminum or steel." All this plus copious footnotes is from Wikipedia's new Classification of Additive Manufacturing Processes.

peeling citurs -Photograph Copyright 2016 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

Peeling Citrus

On this one especially, I like its innards better than its outtards. All the busy and calm pieces inside seem to make more sense than the exterior one-eyed ant-like face and multiple antennae.

RPT probably refers to Rapid Prototyping Technology. Wikipedia's page on Fused deposition modeling offers several videos of 3D Printer processes. And YouTube offers a simplification that makes more obvious sense, and offers clicks to other related processes. There's a PDF of a lecture at NPTEL that explains about rapid prototyping. And though each is not specifically dated, I suspect it all is. This is rapidly-moving and shaking technology.

According to the text on the website at International Sculpture Center's re:sculpt, "an engineer named Igal Kaptsan — slipped in some examples of work he was doing for Frank Stella" into a presentation of the new way of working. "It may surprise some to learn the painter who eased Abstract Expressionism into Minimalism is using 3D printing in his creative output. However, Frank Stella has used additive manufacturing in his work for more than a decade: a natural progression from his relief paintings of the 1970s.

“He doesn’t think of it as a technological breakthrough,” Curator Michael Auping remarked during his tour, noting that Stella has been using such technology since the 1990s. “It is an expedient kind of pencil.”

fins and shims - Photograph Copyright 2016 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

fins and shims

These fins and shims look entirely different from other views, but I am fairly convinced this is part of the structure I'm calling the red ant.



road machine - cpry

Tusk Solid Gray 3000   detail

Then there's this dark, heavy, compact chunk of a little heavy-metal monster with parallel encircling clerestories intersticed like timing chains into and around this tusk's high-power blackness. Black-and-white and black-and-white — mostly black — all around and up and down and in and out. I see a short tinge of blue off a fender upper left, but I bet it's reflected daylight sneaking in from the adjacent day lighted exhibition space.

In this view, I can almost see a round-top, cushioned seat and chain-link fuel tank to lean on, and are those handlebars above them — and in the full view below? I can almost hear the throaty chugga-chugga sounds of an unmuffled engine emanating from that big, curvi-angular criss-cross tailpipe taking up the whole back end of the Tusk 3000, looking more like an anti-grav unit than anything I've seen in the movies, but how do you turn it on?

Frank Stella - Blach SotorMichael -Photograph Copyright 2016 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

black motorcycle

Pull back to full frontal: A little fencing to soften its comfort and keep bare skin off hot parts and three pods to fend off the exigencies of local gravity and space. I don't see headlights or tail lights, but I am beginning to imagine a speedometer and other cyclist amenities. Let's go for a nice, loud proud ride around the lake.



Frank Stella K.81 combo - cprPhotograph Copyright 2016 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

Frank Stella   K.81 combo (K.37 and K.43)   2009   Protogen RPT with stainless steel tubing   180 × 192 × 120 inches 

Another compact little bug — stuck out on the interiorly illuminated side of one of MAMFW's daylighted porch galleries, this lighter, brighter, flywheels-spinning, dynamo waits for something to connect to, something to do with with all that energy. I was engrossed in its internal organs, again not so much its outters. I especially did not care for the dark-framed slide-screen backdrop, though I hardly noticed it in person. It became annoying while I worked this image up, though it still looks kinda cheap, but when I was concentrating on big details, it was hardly noticeable.

Turbine Stack -Photograph Copyright 2016 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

Frank Stella   K.81   2009   protogen RPT with stainless steel tubing   180 x 192 x 120 inches

Some work — especially Stella's 1990 Raft of the Medusa [below] — placed on the other side of one of these baffle walls, look great under bounced and glass-filtered full sunshine and natural light and especially with the inches-deep pond out to the white-washed trees on the far side. Which is why in this photo the sunshine left looks blue, while the photo was mostly in the warmer "tungsten" indoor light. I don't use flash, even when I'm not prohibited from doing it by arcane unthought-through museum rules. Real sunshine is several thousand times the intensity of an electronic flash — and constant, but flashes bother people intensely engaged in looking.

And I've just here begun to notice the slight circular protrusions scattered around this elegantly arcing piece. Something to do with printing it instead of sculpting? Or just digital beauty marks to break up wide surfaces?

Kinda wish I had a link to Ask the Curator, but I'd have way too many questions.

lush gate -Photograph Copyright 2016 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

Frank Stella   K.81   2009   protogen RPT with stainless steel tubing   180 x 192 x 120 inches

I have to look twice at this shot every time I deal with it and visually match parts and protrusions. It doesn't look like the same piece from this side, as from the other full-view looks above. Maybe a cross between a porpoise or a blunt-nosed shark, a tail fin and a bicycle rack, but from the other views — especially most of the interiors — it's elegant and beautiful.

I see in the first, chocolate and pearl component in from this side, the low, straight-back rear fins of a 1957 Chevy. Guess I was just thinking I should photo it from all the major angles, and maybe I should have turned the blue back wall back into its gray cement self.

Inside Curves - Photograph Copyright 2016 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

Inside Curves and Struts

Ah… But look inside, and it's all grace and proportion and airy elegance. Somebody with taste previewed this view of all-swooping curves in colors and striations extruding from this amazing machine, whatever it's for beyond art.

curves and lines -Photograph Copyright 2016 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

curves and lines

This view, took, is gorgeous. Perfectly proportionate a stack of slow curves in a hard rainbow of them. Luscious in its inner and outer details.


Frank Stella - Photograph Copyright 2016 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

Frank Stella   Frank Stella, Raft of the Medusa (Part I) 1990   aluminum and steel   167 x 163 x 159 inches   

3D the old-fashioned way — by carefully pouring molten aluminum. The black grid in back that looks like a bed frame is the raft, we're told. Everything else is what's desperately clinging to it or in the dire circumstance of falling off as the waves crash and glisten. Back is staid safe gravity and simplicity. Forth is froth and power and change and danger.

The grid is the book; the rest is all the wild words and thoughts and imagination it generates. It's exciting, powerful, and I watched visitors new to it physically recoil when they first lay eyes upon it, as did I. It's a big piece of something, we're not at all sure exactly what, but we swallow the story of the raft and love the notion of a Medusa.

Medusa shows us her many pop-culture forms and in Myth, Literary History and early art. I also like Bookforum's page for a book called The Wreck of the Medusa, The Most Famous Sea Disaster of the Nineteenth Century, which is referred to as an "account of the sinking of the French frigate off the coast of Senegal in the early Nineteenth Century — which resulted in the death of scores of passengers and crew — to "all those misled by their leaders." Indeed, it is impossible to read about the incompetence of the ship's captain, who was awarded his post as political payback, and about the cynicism …"

I especially like Wikipedia's page with clickable pop-outs of Théodore Géricault's original 1818-19 painting by the same name, that we all learned about in Second Semester Art History.

Then while browsing photography sites one day after I posted this story, I stumbled on a nice, long, very informal video called Frank Stellas: Return to The Glass House of Frank at the Phillip Johnson vacation home (!) where some of his paintings and The Raft of the Medusa were. With his right hand on a lower portion of The Medusa, and leaning his body weight upon it, Stella clearly states, "It was made as a painting, then assembled as a sculpture." Which clarifies the too oft-misquoted line that it is a painting. Most of the vid is about the house, but Stella talks informally about some of his work there, too.

I thought my photo above was fine till I saw Anna's shot of that same piece:

Frank Stella - Raft of the Medusa by Anna Palmer

Frank Stella   Frank Stella, Raft of the Medusa (Part I) 19900   iPhone photograph by Anna Palmer

Watch all fourteen seconds of a stop-action movie of this piece being installed at The Whitney, the first stop for this Fort Worth-initiated exhibition. The rest of that just under one-minute video shows installation of the other pieces, not all of which are in the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth's show.

The Whitney's Audio Guide Stop for this piece tells what the artist, curator and various academics think. But it's up to us to decide our own verities and validities. I just like looking at it, and if I were permitted, I'd love to carefully run my fingers over it. I did that with my eyes, and it felt great.

The curator and artist both insist this is really a painting, not a sculpture, despite what our eyes have to be telling us all. I figure if I have to walk around something in an art museum to see it all in all its contexts, it is likely a sculpture. I think I'd like it even if I didn't know the title or of its many references.

But I know for certain that what the artist says or thinks about a public piece of art really has little or no say in the matter. He just dreamed it up and made it or directing its making. What he knows about its inception and execution is fascinating, but we get to grouse and glory in it. Once it leaves his studio or is publicized, it's all of ours.

The artist does what he needs to do to make it meaningful to him, so we can look and feel and understand on our own.

Now let's explore a few instances of Frank Stella's brushes with that elusive
third dimension as we skip back in time using examples in the Fort Worth show:


Frank Stella - Gobba side view - Photograph Copyright 2016 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

side view:   Frank Stella   Gobba, zoppa e colloroto   1985

Frank Stella   Gobba, zoppa e colloroto   1985 -Photograph Copyright 2016 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

front quarter view:   Frank Stella   Gobba, zoppa e colloroto   1985

Not exactly three-dimensional but at least it's off the wall. He probably caught a lot of flak just for that. He was a painter. Don't all painters know what the rules are? Not one of my favorite pieces, it's just here to prove some points about a painter exploring out into space — a painter has to start somewhere if he's got ambitions into other dimensions.

I asked Ausping about "Stella's most recent works," the very words he used to describe the 2009 to 2013 pieces at the top of this page, which are really not his most recent, just the most recent in this retrospective, because he is an active-enough artist he was already working on newer pieces when the show wrapped for presentation at The Whitney last year. Maybe MAMFW could do an ongoing digital projection event showing Stella's actual 'latest work.' That would be interesting and/or fascinating, especially to us who have paid attention during this show.

The official title card on the wall near Gobba, zoppa e colloroto describes:

Gobba's ID



Curator Michael Auping leads journalist through tretrospective - Photograph Copyright 2016 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

Michael Auping explains Stella to the Gathered Journalists

Kamionka Strumilowa IV  1972   mixed media collage   Private collection

Entering the third dimension by pushing that almost third D into the wall — something on the order of, I'm guessing, two point five D. Tentatively stepping into the 21st Century, leaving his precious French curves, circles, T and L squares, I like this one. Reminds me of New and Old Mexicos. Notice there's a slightly protruding sculp-painting on the right. Maybe in a room of scary first moves out of the prescribed two-dimensions into which painters long constrained their horizontal plane.

Frank Stella: A Retrospective Audio Guide Playlist that is also downloadable, helped me understand much of what is going on in Stella's work, except some pieces not in the MAMFW version of the retrospective.

I'd hoped to present my faves of Stella's show in chronological order, but needed to show the greatest near the top, which is still several years behind his continuing output, so go we instead back into time, which is, after all, what a retrospective is all about.


Frank Stella - Damascas Gate - Photograph Copyright 2016 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

Frank Stella  Damascus Gate (Stretch Variation III)  1970   Alkyd on canvas   120 × 600 inches

Not much of a third dimension here, but it was a major extension of the usual two Ds. Ausping said it was then the biggest abstract painting ever, and Stella was derided for it when it was new. But it was just Stella experimenting with dimensions. If little abstracts were nice, why not make really big ones? Certainly spectacular to see them in mostly white-walled museums.


Frank Stella - Delta, 1958 - Photograph Copyright 2016 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

Frank Stella   Delta   1958   —   the dark look with reflections (above)  —
Both looks are based on differing angles of viewing and thus angles of light.

Frank Stella - the dark look - of Delta, 1958 - Photograph Copyright 2016 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

Frank Stella   Delta   1958   —  the light look with a little glare

When I photographed this painting of Frank Stella's famous Black Paintings Series — because it seemed visually interesting — not because I understood its pivotal part in Stella's formative history, I noticed the slight differences in appearance depending upon where I stood to photograph it, which itself was based on slight variations on the angles of illumination.

So I photographed it from both views. I left the head-on first image pretty much as it was, but I reframed the bottom image to make it straight, and because I accidentally clipped off its upper right corner when photographing, I extended it here in Photoshop, which I know is wrong, but how it looked with the corner clipped was wronger. Just so you know. I'm including both versions here to show how different the painting looks with just a slight difference in the angles of illumination — black and not-so black. Not exactly a new dimension, but vaguely similar.

Camera exposure probably matters, also, although I shot the two exposures seconds apart and made no adjustments between.

The best explanation of Stella's Black Paintings I found online is in this terse, though extended and uncredited You'Tube video done with almost professional editing and prompting. There's a pretty good verbal explanation in The Art Story, Modern Art Insight on Frank Stella. Then there's the National Gallery of Art's Frank Stella, Black Series I, 1967, which prominently quotes what is perhaps still Stella's most famous quote, from 1964:

All I want anyone to get out of my [works],
and all I ever get out of them is the fact
that you can see the whole idea
without any confusion.
What you see is what you see.”


A remarkably coherent and profusely-illustrated history of Stella's work introduces the 53-minute-long Anderson Ranch Arts Center's July 2015 Conversation with Stella moderated by Curator Dr. Jeffrey Grove that's about Stella, his purposes and philosophies. But there's likely much else about him online, because he's been around for a long time, started making art at the tender age of 23, did amazing things with it early, middle and late. And he has led the way into many new directions and lately, technologies.


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