‘It is hard not to look at his paintings and feel that what has most intrigued him, all along, has been space: the space between lines, the space left out of the canvas, the space you imagine as you look at his shapes, and the real space that exists between the painting and the viewer’
Spanning two metres in height and protruding majestically from the wall, mantri is a monumentally-scaled work from the series of Bali Pieces that Frank Stella began in 2003. Towering hypnotically before the viewer, it presents a biomorphic tangle of industrial materials, coerced into seductive organic rhythms that mutate and modulate from every angle. Inspired by the artist’s experiments with bamboo, its looping configuration of stainless steel tubes is articulated with all the dexterity of a line drawing. Like other works in the series, the sculpture’s title is a Balinese word – translated as ‘prince’ – taken from the 1942 photographic essay Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis by Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. Though their forms resist any specific figurative interpretation, Franz-Joachim Verspohl has postulated a connection between the sculptures’ non-fixed centres and the philosophy of open-ended self-determination central to Balinese culture (F.-J. Verspohl, ‘On Frank Stella’s Bali Pieces and more’, in Frank Stella: Bali Series, exh. cat., Galerie Ficher Rohr, Basel, 2007, pp. 23-24).
Conceived as near-architectural extensions of his paintings, Stella’s gigantic Bali Pieces represent a critical strand within a practice that, from its inception, has treated the canvas first and foremost as a three-dimensional object. ‘For all the extraordinary power Stella’s art has had as an exploration of colour, line, and form in two dimensions’, writes Paul Goldberger, ‘it is hard not to look at his paintings and feel that what has most intrigued him, all along, has been space: the space between lines, the space left out of the canvas, the space you imagine as you look at his shapes, and the real space that exists between the painting and the viewer’ (P. Goldberger, ‘Frank Stella Architecture’, in Frank Stella: Painting into Architecture, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2007, p. 15). In the elusive volumetric caverns of mantri, this conviction becomes a reality.