Frank Stella, Die Fahne hoch!, 1959. Enamel on canvas, 121 1/2 × 73 in. (308.6 × 185.4 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene M. Schwartz and purchase with funds from the John I. H. Baur Purchase Fund, the Charles and Anita Blatt Fund, Peter M. Brant, B. H. Friedman, the Gilman Foundation Inc., Susan Morse Hilles, The Lauder Foundation, Frances and Sydney Lewis, the Albert A. List Fund, Philip Morris Incorporated, Sandra Payson, Mr. and Mrs. Albrecht Saalfield, Mrs. Percy Uris, Warner Communications Inc., and the National Endowment for the Arts 75.22
ADAMWEINBERG: When artist Frank Stella first showed this painting at the Museum of Modern Art in 1959, people were baffled by its austerity. Stella responded, “What you see is what you see. Painting to me is a brush in a bucket and you put it on a surface. There is no other reality for me than that.” He wanted to create work that was methodical, intellectual and passionless. To some, it seemed to be nothing more than a repudiation of everything that had come before it—a rational system devoid of pleasure and personality. But other viewers saw that the black paintings generated an aura of mystery and solemnity.
The title of this work, Die Fahne Hoch, literally means, “the banner raised.” It comes from the marching anthem of the Nazi youth organization. Stella pointed out that the proportions of this canvas are much the same as the large flags displayed by the Nazis.
But the content of the work makes no reference to anything outside of the painting itself. The pattern was deduced from the shape of the canvas—the width of the black bands is determined by the width of the stretcher bars. The white lines that separate the broad bands of black are created by the narrow areas of unpainted canvas. Stella’s black paintings greatly influenced the development of Minimalism in the 1960s—you can see examples of Minimalist art in this gallery.