Frank Stella is a prolific American artist of Sicilian descent. Stella was born in 1936 in Malden, Massachusetts. Educated at Philips Academy, and graduated from Princeton University.
Stella was encouraged by his father to work as a house and boat painter prior to dedicating his career to art.
Stella is renowned for his contribution to minimalism and post abstract painting early in his career. He reduced painting to its minimal essentials as in his series of four black paintings exhibited at The Modern Museum of Art, New York in 1959-60. Later, he came to embrace maximalist style which is evident in the sculpture Nessus and Dejanira, (2017) which is a part of the current exhibition at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum or other works such as in his lithograph Feneralia (1995) with its bold array of shapes that look like they are ready to jump off the page and morph into three-dimensional form.
Stella is also credited with inventing Offset lithography. In 2009 Stella received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama. Stella lives in Manhattan and he keeps a vast studio upstate New York where he has plenty of room to create.
What you see is what you see.
In 1963, Stella visited Iran where sacred geometry had flourished and is evident in numerous monuments throughout the county that are adorned with patterns of interlocking star polygons. This trip may have ignited Stella’s interest in the geometric patterns of stars. There are twenty-five star sculptures in Frank Stella’s solo exhibition1 at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum located in Ridgefield, Connecticut; six of them are on the museum grounds, with the balance inside the museum galleries.
The exhibition focuses on Stella’s stars which are a recurring form in his art throughout the 1960s and remerged in the 2010s. It is an attractive drive to the museum through windy treelined roads with white picket fences or stone walls framing historic homes leading to the Aldrich and to the charming New England town of Ridgefield.
As you turn onto the museum’s drive off of Main Street, you are immediately welcomed by six of his stars. In the front, all the star-shaped sculptures are made in stainless steel. The material is explored differently in each piece.
In Stick Star (2017), the tubing is circular and the star appears to be breaking away from its shape or is it reaching out and expanding. Star with Square Tubing (2016) is a stellated complex polyhedron, and Jay’s Star (2017) is made up of flat sheets of stainless steel that are cut into triangular shapes pierced with triangular shapes and thus creating a triangle within a triangle. The cutouts reconnect the viewer to the environment around like windows.
On the back of the museum grounds, you can’t miss seeing the massive aluminum Jasper’s Split Star, (2017) and Frank’s Wooden Star (2014). Jasper’s Split Star looks like a star-shaped space ship has just landed. Frank’s Wooden Star marries twenty-first-century digital technology with the natural material of wood. After, visiting the exhibition I later learned that it would have been inconceivable to make Jasper’s Split Star, Fat 12 Point Carbon Fiber Star, and Frank’s Wooden Star without digital technology.
Inside the museum galleries, there are multiple spaces dedicated to Stella’s stars with one of the museum galleries inspired by Stella’s studio. I was particularly drawn to the studio-style space which features five sculptures some of them are prototypes for larger sculptures set up on workhorses and a seedpod of a tropical plant Travelers Palm that looks naturally like a star. It was interesting to see this natural material in a room of objects made of manmade materials of RPT (Rapid Prototype Technology), stainless steel, and plastic. In the back gallery space, one favorite of mine is Fat 12 Point Carbon Fiber Star the glossy black color reminds me of sports cars and it measures over twenty feet tall by twenty feet wide. Its plump and swollen star points remind me of a Fernando Botero sculpture. It was audaciously placed in a room that it looks too big for and this adds to the wow factor when you see this massive star.
It was personally interesting to learn that Stella had traveled to Iran as it may explain my attraction to his stars on a subconscious level as I too have seen the interlocking star polygons on monuments on a trip I took in 1967 the same year Stella created his pencil drawing Star of Persia and the two lithographs Star of Persia I, and Star of Persia II.
Stella’s stars are dazzling. I took three trips to Ridgefield to see them and with each visit the drive provided me an opportunity to see the color of the leaves change from verdant green trees to ones of bedecked colors of autumn. These sculptures connect us to the environment around us and I look forward to seeing the stars again on a snow-covered lawn.
1 Frank Stella’s Stars, A Survey at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum is on view through May 9, 2021, and was curated by Richard Klein, exhibitions director, and Amy Smith-Stewart, senior curator.