Frank Stella, "Sculpture"

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4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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Recently, the Whitney announced that it’s planning a Frank Stella retrospective for next year, news that adds a bit of interest to this show of works recent and past—Stella’s first since joining the gallery.

The offerings are indeed sculpture, a medium he’s been busying himself with for a while now. He originally made his bones nearly 50 years ago by treating painting not as a window or a plane, but as a wall relief, pushing geometric abstraction to the edges of the canvas. From the very beginning, however, this formula, which anticipated Minimalism, more or less guaranteed that he’d wind up where he has. At the same time, it’s allowed for a wide range of expression.

Roaming in scale from monumental statements to small maquettes, the pieces showcase Stella’s late style, one exemplary of Edward Said’s observation that such efforts are categorized by “intransigence, difficulty and unresolved contradiction.” Four sculptures in particular face off in a contrast of appearances between bright, Pop-y and factory-finished, and roughly textured and seemingly salvaged from the scrap yard. The latter, of which certain parts are actually cast-bronze, date from approximately 20 years ago and appear to nod to the postwar school of welded-together metal and junk assemblages that found their most refined manifestations in the oeuvres of David Smith and Mark di Suvero.

The other objects here, especially the baroquely ornamental Puffed Star, resemble abstracted Koons sculptures. This makes sense since Stella was sort of the midcentury Jeff Koons: His logo-like paintings were as emblematic of the era’s buttoned-down corporate order as Koons’s gigantic tchotchkes are of our Gilded Age moment.

Though Stella is toying with history here, he’d probably argue as always that “what you see is what you see.” And what you see, finally, is an old hand who’s never tired of topping himself.—Howard Halle

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