Frank Stella: Experiment and Change

At age 81, Frank Stella is as vibrant and prolific as ever – and a new exhibition at the NSU Art Museum in Fort Lauderdale is offering ample evidence of that.

More than 300 pieces – sculpture, models, works on paper and on canvas – are on display from now until July 8.

Frank Stella,  Hiraqla Variation II, 1968 Magna on canvas, 120 x 240 x 4 inches  Private Collection, NY © 2017 Frank Stella &
Frank Stella, Hiraqla Variation II, 1968 Magna on canvas, 120 x 240 x 4 inches Private Collection, NY © 2017 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Educated at Andover and Princeton University, Stella burst onto the New York arts scene in 1958. By the time he was 23, his breakout Black paintings were the subject of a Museum of Modern Art exhibition. MoMA subsequently organized his first retrospective in 1970, and another in 1987. In 2015, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, presented the most recent retrospective of his work.

He belongs to a generation of artists excited, driven and challenged by the art of the abstract expressionists, especially Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), Mark Rothko (1903-1970), Barnett Newman (1905-1970), Robert Motherwell (1915-1991), and Franz Kline (1919-1962).

Frank Stella, WWRL, 1967 Alkyd on canvas Private Collection, NY © 2017 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New
Frank Stella, WWRL, 1967 Alkyd on canvas Private Collection, NY © 2017 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The current exhibition in Fort Lauderdale is an extension of a 2000 exhibition in North Miami that Stella collaborated on with curator Bonnie Clearwater. “We had the process and the ideas down, so this is work since 2000 mainly, with some earlier pieces,” he says. “There are a lot of working models and drawings and a lot of archival materials.”

Included are a number of reference points for finished work, so that a viewer can follow Stella’s creative process. “If you’re going to look at something here, you’ll get more involved in thinking about it,” he says. ”If you’re curious about how something looks, you can see how it developed.”

Frank Stella, Diavolozoppo (#2, 4x), 1984 MM on canvas, etched Mg, AI & fiberglass Private Collection, NY © 2017 Frank St
Frank Stella, Diavolozoppo (#2, 4x), 1984 MM on canvas, etched Mg, AI & fiberglass Private Collection, NY © 2017 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

What the careful viewer will discover is that Stella’s art is what it wants to be. “Making art is not so easy,” he says. “You get involved and things are dictated to you by the difficulty of the process.”

Frank Stella,  Sunapee II, 1966 Alkyd and epoxy paint on canvas Private Collection, NY © 2017 Frank Stella / Artists Rig
Frank Stella, Sunapee II, 1966 Alkyd and epoxy paint on canvas Private Collection, NY © 2017 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

And he’s been involved in that creative process for more than 60 years now, though he discounts that kind of longevity. “That’s a biological quirk – that wasn’t my fault,” he quips.

For more on Frank Stella: Experiment and Change, go here.

J. Michael Welton writes about architecture, art and design for national and international publications, and is architecture critic for The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. He edits a digital design magazine at www.architectsandartisans.com,, where portions of this column first appeared, and is the author of “Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand“ (Routledge: 2015). He can be reached at mike@architectsandartisans.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at: @mikewelton

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