“Frank Stella: A Retrospective”
Whitney Museum of American Art, through Feb. 7, 2016
It’s been a long time since I’ve looked at pre-c. 1990 Stella in person rather than reproduction–as usual, indescribably worth it vis-a-vis true appreciation for the crafted subtleties that were central to his early painting project as a whole. Definitely forgot the buzzy spill-over into Op-artiness. Once the 3-D elements set in, the separation of painting and sculpture blows up in a way that fulfills Donald Judd’s observations and prescriptions in “Specific Objects” (1965), in which he praised, as the right direction, Stella’s then novel shaped canvases. Yet, Stella remains a painter in the mind as Picasso does in the gut–the few ingenious sculptures featured in his current MoMA show not withstanding. Put another way: like the mythic earlier master, when Stella does go full out 3D, whether in throw-back modernist table top constructions or the colossal computer-generated “stars” landed on the 4th floor outdoor patio, a bold but studied negotiation of forms consolidates into a material and intellectual solution with a punch.
While not a hint of figuration appears in the 50-year coverage on view, individual works take on distinct personalities, ironically. At a certain point, definitively established from around 1990, the works turn from graphic experiments to buoyant, or angry, or contemplative, or meditative (etc.) “presences” — the goal of abstraction, in the end, according to the early accolades of long-time critical supporter, Michael Fried.
For anyone (still) ambivalent about “non-objective” art per se, this show could turn you.