Settled into Chelsea’s Marianne Boesky gallery, Frank Stella’s sculpture display is like a vision from the contemporary art world’s future. The show, which displays works by the artist from the 1990’s and this past year, comes a year before Stella’s retrospective at the Whitney Museum of Art’s new Chelsea location, which will open just about ten blocks south.
The exhibition is Stella’s first solo show in the gallery following a partnership with Marianne Boesky and Dominique Levy this past spring. Stella’s power as an artist is a well-accepted fact by now, having been the youngest artist to secure a retrospective at the MoMA at age 34 in 1970. The artist has demonstrated an ability to expand mediums, opening the doors to the Minimalist movement with his Black Paintings and growing to push painting into a new spatial dimension by including protrusions on his canvases.
The grandeur of Stella’s legacy is worth remembering while moving through the modest display, which features five pieces presented completely bare, without descriptions or titles. It’s expected that you’ve done your homework; the space presumes that you know who he is and what he has done.
Central to the exhibit is a conflation of opposing forces. The distinction between Stella’s 90’s pieces and those produced in 2014 is markedly clear. But these differences are decidedly placed side-by-side, in pairs. The first room features K. 150, a piece produced in part by a 3-D printer. It feels comic and painterly, with vibrant red and blue geometric shapes that crawl out of a white screen like vines. The piece at once feels alive and artificial, like a something at an amusement park. Sitting in the opposite corner, Creutzwald looks perhaps like something post-life. A skeleton of twisted steel, with an elegantly raised wing, the piece offers a vision of death.
But these works are just a preview to the next room. Imposing and overwhelming in size, Puffed Star II and Fishkill extend and complete the visions created by their precursors. Fishkill is an explicitly postwar piece, as a small sticker reading “No Home zone for Fascists” in German peeling off the metal of the piece reveals. The piece looks like a work frozen in mid-combustion, a chaotic twist of metal. It is heavy and dense, with spaces that seem to be impregnable for a viewer. In contrast, Puffed Star II, one of Stella’s most recent pieces, floats weightless and inviting. The reliability of its symmetry offers a counterpoint of visual rest from its visually confounding neighbor. Both works demonstrate Stella’s desire to invade bodily space, with pieces that jut out, threatening to trip or touch a circling onlooker.
The works truly stand on their own, but in this particular combination they create a sort of magic. Visions of a destroyed past and a utopian future combine to form some idea of our present—stranded in-between. The works are worth exploring in this intimate gallery space, where one can get up close and personal without the clamoring crowds that can be expected at the retrospective next fall.
Written by Rowanne Dean