Die Fahne hoch! (1959), “Black Paintings” series
“Out of frustration with some previous works I’d made using combinations of black, yellow and red stripes, I started making symmetrical paintings with all-black bands that radiated in concentric patterns from the center of the composition. I used black enamel on raw canvas because I liked the way the paint was absorbed by the cotton duck—and it was cheap! I was reacting to Abstract Expressionism which, by the time I arrived, meant second-generation artists giving painterly abstraction a bad name.”
The youngest artist to ever receive a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art—in 1970, at age 34—Frank Stella carved his name into American art history with his innovative shaped canvases. They collapsed the distinction between painting and sculpture by reminding viewers that paintings start as three-dimensional objects. Obvious now, perhaps, but not in 1959, when Stella created his iconic “Black Paintings.” They paved the way for Minimalism, while subsequent works—the “Irregular Polygons” and “Indian Bird” series, to name two—gave painting a radical new twist. With a Whitney Museum retrospective opening this fall, the 79-year-old artist weighs in on his groundbreaking work and his continuing experimentation with materials and forms.