ASL Vlog: Frank Stella

Educator Lauren Ridloff discusses a work by Frank Stella in the exhibition Where We Are: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1900–1960.

When Stella first showed this painting in the Museum of Modern Art in 1959 people were perplexed. They didn’t understand it. It was during the era of Abstract Expressionism. Imagine Pollock and Rothko. Their work was full of color. It was fluid. There was movement and expression. Their processes were very painterly, especially in their techniques. Their work created a response in people. Compare that to this. Simple and severe. And what about color? Just black. Dark. Stella’s goal was to break away from Abstract Expressionism. What you see is what you see. That’s it. This piece is painted on canvas. He follows the canvas. On the back, there are stretcher bars that run along the outside of each painting and sometimes cross as supports in the middle. Stella simply dipped his brush in a can of paint and follows the natural lines in the canvas and the stretcher bars. See how these lines curve as they follow the natural shape. See these white lines. They are the canvas itself. Stella wanted the viewer to see the process of painting. To see that the techniques and methods have a process to them. Emotions and feelings are absent. But some viewers did feel something when they looked at this painting. Some described it as an aura of mystery and solemnity. Stella used tools of a house painter to inform the symmetry of this painting.


Where We Are