Frank Stella (b. 1936)
Frank Stella (b. 1936)


Frank Stella (b. 1936)
acrylic on canvas
129½ x 129½ in. (328.9 x 328.9 cm.)
Executed in 1974.
M. Knoedeler & Co. Inc., New York
The Gund Art Foundation, New York
Anon. sale; Christie's New York, 7 May 1996, lot 43
Private Collection, Columbus
Anon. sale; Sotheby's New York, 13 May 2003, lot 34
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, A Private Vision: Contemporary Art from the Graham Gund Collection, February-April 1982, p. 44 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

One of Frank Stella's signature series is his Concentric Square paintings, which he began in the early 1960's and one which he mined for sixteen years. The artist explored its possibilities, using a dizzying array of color combinations, never repeating himself. He also varied the scale, ranging from small-scale studies, to heroic scale examples such as Pratfall.

Pratfall's defining quality is its palette-it is one of only two black/white/grey examples of the series (the other is appropriately entitled Sight Gag from the same date). The absence of color focuses the eye on the clever composition, in which some of the bands get progressively darker as they move towards the painting's edge, while others get lighter. The eye vacillates from being pulled in and pushed out-although Stella has grander ambitions than Op-Art, it nonetheless is a masterpiece of that sub-genre of contemporary art.

Unflinchingly hard-edged and eschewing expressive gesture, the concentric squares repudiate the notion of the artist's hand as a signifier of meaning, yet it is clear that Stella's work grows out of his New York School forebears. Indeed, the series is an important link between the work of reductive abstract expressionists like Ad Reinhardt and Barnett Newman and the minimal artists such as Donald Judd and Dan Flavin.

Pratfall was painted at a time when Stella was creating some of the most baroque works of his career. It is surprising that the author of the sublimely spare Pratfall was created by the same artist as his contemporaneous painted wall reliefs, but Stella intentionally was pushing himself in opposing directions, stretching the limits of his aesthetic boundaries. "The Concentric Squares created a pretty high, pretty tough pictorial standard. Their simple, rather humbling power-became a sort of "control" against which my increasing tendency in the seventies to be extravagant could be measured." (F. Stella, as quoted in Frank Stella, 1970-1987, New York, 1987, p. 48).

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