Stella’s Passion: from Abstract to Architecture

Event: Frank Stella: Painting into Architecture; Frank Stella on the Roof
Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 05.01-07.29.07 and 05.01-10.28.07
Curator: Gary Tinterow — Engelhard Curator in Charge, and Anne L. Strauss — Associate Curator, Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Frank Stella

Highlighting the urban environment, adjoeman (2004), and Chinese Pavilion (2007) are two of Frank Stella’s sculptures on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Jessica Sheridan

Painting into Architecture is the second in a series at the Metropolitan to investigate contemporary artists working in the architectural realm. Here, Stella’s paintings are the backdrop to his architecture. Form-driven and pictorial in nature, the models range from his earliest plywood The Broken Jug band shell proposal (1998), to this year’s nylon and acrylic Guest House and Remembering Henry [Geldzahler] mausoleum. Although models display a progression of work, the development is limited to form. You cannot tell whether construction details have been explored and the reality of internal systems has been advanced.

“[Frank] Stella hopes to invigorate architecture with some of the freedom that he has learned to enjoy,” states the description of Frank Stella: Painting into Architecture. Two recent exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art highlight different aspects of Stella’s work — from paintings, wall-reliefs, and full-scale mock-ups to monumental sculpture — each exhibiting the artist’s passion for architecture. In fact, Gary Tinterow, Engelhard Curator in Charge, seems to imply that it is inevitable that Stella’s lifelong work has gradually grown in every direction to culminate in a yet-to-be-realized building.

The link between Painting into Architecture and Frank Stella on the Roof is in the former’s The Ship (2007) , and the latter’s Chinese Pavilion (2007). A proposal in 1989 for an addition to the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands, The Ship is still being developed even though it is no longer intended for the museum. Inspired by the veins in leaves, a full-size model made of fiberglass and carbon fiber is installed in the gallery. The carbon epoxy composite Chinese Pavilion, on the roof of the Metropolitan, is a very similar form to The Ship. Not claiming to be anything other than sculpture, the structure is more complete in an exterior setting where it can frame views and reflect the urban environment.

Frank Stella on the Roof consists of three recent monumental works in stainless steel and carbon fiber. Each sculpture takes advantage of its siting, featuring a different aspect of Stella’s admiration for architecture. While the sculptures are massive, they take a back seat to the museum, Upper East Side, and Central Park. As with Chinese Pavilion, adjoeman (2004) and memantra (2005) profit from their surroundings by framing views of the city and reflecting the surrounding architecture.

“Now I find I can’t stop thinking about architecture. I can only blame the pursuit of abstraction,” Stella is quoted in the exhibition. Although none of his building proposals have been constructed, these two exhibitions put forth the argument that the number of years Stella has pursued architecture, and the scale of the sculptures he creates, give him knowledge and expertise in the architecture field. Although Painting into Architecture has closed, a 40-page, illustrated publication with an essay by Paul Goldberger is available at the museum’s bookshops. Frank Stella on the Roof is on view, weather permitting, through October 28.