• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 1998

    Post -War And Contemporary Art Morning Session

    14 May 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 170

    Frank Stella (b. 1936)

    Untitled

    Price Realised  

    Frank Stella (b. 1936)
    Untitled
    signed and dated 'F. Stella 74' (on the overlap)
    acrylic on canvas
    69 x 69 in. (175.3 x 175.3 cm.)
    Painted in 1974.


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    Untitled is an excellent example of Stella's best formal and reductive concentric paintings. The flat, geometric design exemplifies his iconoclast feelings towards Abstract Expressionism which he held early in his career, and the symmetrical, matte surface speaks of his deep interest in eschewing pictorial allusions in favor of making "the picture more like a painting and less like an object by stressing the surface (Frank Stella quoted in W. Rubin, Frank Stella, New York, 1970, p. 15)."

    After visiting Jasper Johns's first one-man show in New York in January 1958, ideas of rhythm, interval and repetition came into focus and subsequently helped solve Stella's problem of relational painting. As Stella explained in a speech he gave at Pratt University in 1959:

    "I had to do something about relational painting, i.e. the balancing of the various parts with and against each other. The obvious answer was symmetry - make it the same all over. The question still remained, though, of how to do this in depth. A symmetrical image or configuration placed on an open ground is not balanced out in the illusionistic space. The solution I arrived at forces illusionistic space out of the painting at a constant rate by using a regulated pattern. (Stella quoted in R. Rosenblum, Frank Stella, New York, 1971, p. 57)"

    Untitled is a perfect demonstration of this solution, with its twelve radiating squares creating a perfect symmetry and an undulating optical illusion of movement. The colored bands that radiate out of the bright yellow center serve not only to create an attractive optical pulse, drawing the onlooker in and out of the canvas, but also serve to bring attention to the entire piece and canvas together as a whole: for the repeating pattern of the square echoes the shape of the canvas itself, and therefore allows the onlooker to see the very edge of the canvas as another square in the series.

    The painting also shows a maturing of style, for the traces of graphite showing between the bands of color point towards premeditated design, unlike the improvisational impasto underpaintings from his earliest works which were still focused on reacting against Abstract Expressionism.

    Stella's use of color emerged in the 1960's with his Benjamin Moore series, for which he chose only six Benjamin Moore paint colors (the primaries red, yellow and blue, and the secondary colors orange, green and purple). The change was fresh and new to his style, however it is the inclusion of the transitional colors in his later works in the 1970's, that allows more subtlety in his color changes, and therefore harmonizes the color theory and compositional theory in the paintings.
    "The Concentric Squares created a pretty high, pretty tough pictorial standard. Their simple, rather humbling effect-almost a numbing power-became a sort of 'control' against which my increasing tendency in the seventies to be extravagant could be measured." (Stella quoted in W. Rubin, Frank Stella 1970-1987, New York, 1987, p. 48).

    Provenance

    Knoedler Contemporary Art, New York