Minimal New Hampshire
Frank Stella, the pioneering Minimalist who is among the greatest contemporary American artists, is also one of the most famous artists that Massachusetts has ever produced though he has never really been identified with Massachusetts. Born in Malden in 1936, Stella graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover in 1954, left New England to attend college, and never looked back.
After graduating from Princeton in 1958, the preppy from New England headed straight for New York City where his early all-black and stripe paintings quickly established him as one of the stars of Minimalism along with sculptors such as Carl Andre and Donald Judd and painters such as Kenneth Noland and Sol LeWitt.
Minimalism, a reaction against the wild, emotional gestures of Abstract Expressionism, posited a cool, measured, detached aesthetic that reduced content to form. Stella’s signature hard-edge abstractions evolved over the years such that his early two-dimensional geometric abstractions gave rise later to more complex, three-dimensional maximalist paintings and sculptures. I once stood in front of a garish Stella painting at the Museum of Modern Art watching glitter fall to floor and wondering if I took a souvenir whether I would be guilty of art theft.
The vintage early Stella will soon return to New England in an exhibition at the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire entitled Frank Stella: Irregular Polygons (October 9 to March 13, 2011). The exhibition, which marks the 25th anniversary of the Hood, will feature “eleven monumental compositions for the Irregular Polygon (1965-66) series, along with preparatory drawings, the 1974 print series Eccentric Polygons (based on the Irregular Polygons), and a selection of the artist’s latest works, the Polychrome Reliefs.”
The Dartmouth show is something of a homecoming for Stella, who not only spoke at the 1985 opening of the Hood but also served as artist-in-residence at Dartmouth in 1963. The Irregular Polygon paintings, created in 1965-66, are all named after small towns in New Hampshire – Chocorua, Conway, Effingham, Moultonboro, Moultonville, Ossipee, Sanbornville, Sunapee, Tuftonboro, Union, and Wolfeboro.
Stella created four color variations of each of the 11 Irregular Polygons paintings, asymmetrical canvases that, in retrospect, bear a strong family resemblance to the measured wall drawings of fellow Minimalist (and fellow New Englander) Sol LeWitt. The precise, flat, formalism of the Minimalism movement of the 1960s and 1970s eventually prompted a reaction against its impersonal nature, which manifest itself as a return to Expressionism in the 1980s. By that time, Stella himself had moved into his maximalist phase, which continues to this day in his Polychrome Reliefs, exuberant coils and lattices shot through with metal tubing.
On Thursday, October 21, at 4:30 p.m., Hood Museum of Art director Brian Kennedy will conduct a question-and-answer session with Frank Stella at Dartmouth’s Spaulding Auditorium.
[Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover NH, 603-646-2808]