In 1959, a newcomer in his early twenties takes New York’s art scene by storm: the American Frank Stella (b. 1936). The sensational Black Paintings he creates that year are radically abstract. Stella renounces all illusion of space and depth, obliterating the distinction between figure and ground. Emphasizing the flatness of the canvas, he highlights its objecthood. Stella sees himself as a member of the first generation of artists for whom the possibility of abstract painting is an undisputable option, and he believes it is the only way forward for an ambitious painterly practice in the postwar era.
From May 9 until August 30, 2015, Kunstmuseum Basel presents works by the American artist Frank Stella. Hosted by the Museum für Gegenwartskunst, the exhibition Frank Stella— Paintings & Drawings primarily features selections from the museum’s own exceptionally rich holdings of Stella’s art.
The majority of the works in the exhibition at the Museum für Gegenwartskunst come from the Kunstmuseum’s own extraordinarily rich holdings. They illustrate the early stages of Stella’s output, beginning in 1958 with the paintings West Broadway and Seward Park, which anticipate the Black Paintings of 1959. In the 1960s, the Shaped Canvases represent a crucial next step in the ongoing evolution of Stella’s conception of the picture. The outer contours of these works relate closely to the structures within them, giving rise to a novel correspondence between painting and pictorial format. Between 1967 and 1971, Frank Stella created the Protractor Series, including Damascus Gate Variation I (1969/1970). The collective title derives from the circular device, known as a protractor, that Stella used to design the paintings’ shapes. Arpoador I (1975) exemplifies the transition to the painted aluminum relief, a support Stella introduced in the Brazilian Series (1974–1975).
The second part of the exhibition presents Stella’s works on paper; the Kupferstichkabinett holds more than 350 of the artist’s drawings. The display showcases a concise selection of 115 works. They should be read as “working drawings”: sketches, diagrams and preparatory studies. Courtesy of the Fonds für künstlerische Aktivitäten im Museum für Gegenwartskunst der Emanuel Hoffmann-Stiftung und der Christoph Merian Stiftung. Images courtesy: Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Kunstmuseum Basel.