Precluding Frank Stella’s career retrospective at The Whitney Museum, which opens at the end of October, Paul Kasmin Gallery has opened a similarly focused exhibition of the New York artist’s particular brand of formal innovation, moving from his early minimal and shaped canvas works during the 1960’s on through to his vividly constructed and layered assemblages of the 1980’s on through to the current day. Pulling one major work from each of the artist’s most prominent series, the nine works trace the artist’s continued evolution and investigation of shape, space and color as his material interests have gradually changed.
Stella’s work has seen countless shifts and alterations as his career has progressed, and the works presented here allow for sudden, sharp contrasts in form as the viewer moves from series to series chronologically, moving from the colorful wheeled surface of Sinjerli III (1967), which uses contrasts of color in both stark variation and subtle shifts in tone (one may note a slight difference in the two semicircles bounding the other colors on view) to encourage repeated viewings and a focus on the pure relationships between color and space. Nearby, Sunapee III (1966) underscores variations in formal execution, while the work’s essential focuses on color relations and form remain preserved.
Moving through the 1970’s and 80’s, Stella’s work delves into more complex and warped iterations, as canvases and aluminum supports are threaded together to create vivid, gaping constructions that take the destruction of the painterly surface in previous decades to a natural conclusion. These pieces move beyond the limits of 1960’s conceptual painting, using notions of depth and object relations to explore deeper relationships in perception and the possibilities for painterly construction that Stella placed at the center of his work.
Frank Stella, Flin Flon (1970) and Sinjerli (1967), © 2015 Frank Stella/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Of particular note is Stella’s recent movement away from the painted canvas in favor of massive hung or wall-mounted assemblages, depicted here in the artist’s work Kapar, a twisting relationship between bent tubing and black steel that, given the context of the surrounding works, feels as if Stella’s hand had finally broken free of the canvas, finally realizing a wholly new formal ground, in which the gesture moves away from a canvas ground, and settles on the wall itself, removing a mediating factor that gives Stella’s work increasing urgency. When compared next to the adjacent Eskimo Curlew (3X) from 1977, Kapar’s curving, three-dimensional form feels remarkably well-developed.
Allowing the artist’s full range of interests and expressive capacities to express themselves within a minimal set of works, Shape as Form welcomes a strong entry point for Stella’s work, and does a fine job of heightening anticipations for the artist’s retrospective in the coming weeks.
The exhibition is on view through October 10th.
— D. Creahan
Frank Stella: Shape as Form [Paul Kasmin]