Spanning more than sixty years, Frank Stella’s studio practice has pushed abstraction to the limits, investigating every category from painting and printmaking to sculpture and public art. Among the myriad of forms found in Stella’s work, one element continuously reappears, a motif that is simultaneously abstract and figurative: the star. Immediately identifiable, the star stands out amidst the tangle of invented abstractions the artist has explored over his long career. Under the spotlight for the first time, this exhibition surveys Stella’s use of the star through twenty-five works that orbit the Museum, ranging from two-dimensional works of the 1960s to its most recent incarnation in sculptures, wall reliefs, and painted objects from the 2010s.
Stella’s use of the star form emerged during his first decade in New York as he was exhibiting his groundbreaking striped and shaped paintings. It then vanished and resurfaced many decades later at a moment when he committed himself to three-dimensional abstraction. Today, the star is the lead in scores of works from small objects to towering sculptures, each parading a material resourcefulness that collapses analogue and twenty-first century fabrication techniques: RPT plastics, teak, aluminum, stainless steel, birch plywood, fiberglass, carbon fiber, and more.
The Museum’s founder Larry Aldrich showed an early interest in Stella’s work, exhibiting Tetuan (1963) one year after he founded The Aldrich in 1964. Since then, Stella’s work has been exhibited in fourteen more group exhibitions, including shows such as Cool Art (1967), The Minimal Tradition (1979), and Intermedia: Between Painting and Sculpture (1984). The present survey, however, marks the first time that The Aldrich has devoted an entire exhibition to the artist’s work.
The exhibition spans the Leir Gallery, Screening Room, Project Space, Sculpture Garden and Museum’s grounds.
Frank Stella was born in 1936 in Malden, Massachusetts, and lives and works in New York City.
Frank Stella’s Stars, A Survey is organized by Richard Klein, Exhibitions Director, and Amy Smith-Stewart, Senior Curator, with the help of Caitlin Monachino, Curatorial Assistant and Publications Manager.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a full-color 150-page hardbound book, featuring essays by the exhibition’s curators.
Scores for the Stars, 2020-21, is a two-part series by artist Ander Mikalson commissioned by The Aldrich and dedicated to Frank Stella’s Stars. The first part, Scores for the Stars, Part I, was a two-channel sound installation on view in the Museum’s Sculpture Garden from December 21, 2020 to January 3, 2021. Signage with QR codes to access Mikalson’s score while viewing Stella’s sculptures was placed in the Sculpture Garden. Visitors were encouraged to explore the outdoor works by Stella and experience Mikalson’s installation together in real time.
Scores for the Stars, Part I celebrates the winter solstice (December 21, 2020), a time when our largest star, the sun, is lowest in the sky. The scores for the winter solstice are excerpted from eponymous summertime tunes like Summertime by Gershwin and Walking on Sunshine by Katrina & The Waves. The winter solstice score is performed by musician Karina Garrett. The performer plays to the Stars with deep feeling, seeking to communicate with them. The sounds appear to emanate from the Stars as if they are singing to each other. Signs with QR codes were installed in the Museum’s Sculpture Garden by two of Stella’s outdoor sculptures, Jasper’s Split Star and Frank’s Wooden Star.
Mikalson said, “On the winter solstice we serenade the Stars with songs about summer. On the summer solstice we serenade the Stars with songs about winter. We play songs of the opposite season in a gesture of longing, of collapsing and layering time, of acknowledging cycles, of looking forward and back, of the impossibility of time across distance. When we look at the stars we see light that burned billions of years ago; we literally look into the past. The universe is balanced. Within each thing contained is also the possibility of its opposite. In this particularly dark winter of isolation, playing songs of summer is also a gesture of hope.”
Scores for the Stars, Part II will occur as a live performance at The Aldrich on the summer solstice (June 20, 2021), when the sun is highest in sky. The scores performed on the summer solstice will be about winter. More information about this performance forthcoming.
Mikalson’s Scores for the Stars was created in response to the exhibition Frank Stella’s Stars, A Survey. It was organized by Education Director Namulen Bayarsaihan and Senior Curator Amy Smith-Stewart. Frank Stella’s Stars, A Survey is on view inside the Museum through May 9, 2021; the outdoor work installed throughout the Museum’s grounds is on view through September 7, 2021.
Generous support for Frank Stella's Stars, A Survey is provided by the Anne S. Richardson Fund, Speyer Family Foundation, Martin Margulies, Diana Bowes and James Torrey, Linda and Michael Dugan, and Patricia and Lawrence Kemp.
Top image: Frank Stella’s Stars, A Survey, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, September 21, 2020 to May 9, 2021, left to right: Fat 12 Point Carbon Fiber Star, 2016; Flat Pack Star, 2016 (installation view), Courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York and Aspen © 2020 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Jason Mandella