Exhibition on view February 6 through May 22, 2016
Opening Reception, February 5, 6–9 pm
MADISON, WI—Throughout his long and prodigious career, Frank Stella has been a major force in the art world, internationally hailed as one of America’s greatest artists. In his paintings, metal reliefs, sculptures, and prints, he has advanced the history of abstraction, an art movement that emerged during the early twentieth century in the innovations of artists such as Vassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, and Piet Mondrian. Stella, continuously evolving and ambitious, remains in the vanguard of abstraction, ever a force to be reckoned with.
The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art will present Frank Stella Prints: A Retrospective, on view in the main galleries from February 6 thought May 22, 2016. An MMoCA Nights opening reception will take place on Friday, February 5 from 6:00-9:00 pm. The evening will feature Frank Stella in conversation with master printmaker Kenneth Tyler, exhibition curator Richard H. Axsom, and print collector Jordan Schnitzer, moderated by museum director Stephen Fleischman. Organized by MMoCA and traveling to museums across the country, this ambitious and career-spanning exhibition includes over 100 editioned prints that detail the artist’s remarkable career as a printmaker. The prints have been pulled from the collection of the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation. Demonstrating how Stella’s highly experimental endeavors opened up traditional print media to new possibilities, the exhibition also offers a clear view of the artist’s stylistic evolution—a series of reinventions from the minimalist geometric abstraction of the early 1960s to the baroque exuberance of his later gestural work.
“This exhibition offers the chance to see important work by one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century, and beyond this, to personally experience the power of his art and vision,” stated Stephen Fleischman, MMoCA director.
“Creating and bringing forward an exhibition such as this reflects the deep relationships MMoCA has with major artists. We are proud to sponsor Frank Stella Prints: A Retrospective; to help provide access to such an outstanding and thoughtful exhibition, and to champion the museum, an important asset in our community,” stated John Ronzia, BMO Private Bank Regional Senior Vice President.
Frank Stella Prints: A Retrospective is the artist’s first major print retrospective since 1982. MMoCA’s presentation of Stella’s prints complements the artist’s full-career retrospective of paintings, metal reliefs, and sculpture at the new Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (fall, 2015). It is also the occasion for the publication of Frank Stella Prints, a revised and expanded second edition of The Prints of Frank Stella: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1967–1982 (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1983), which was produced by MMoCA’s senior curator, Rick Axsom, and published by the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation in association with the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
Frank Stella, an American artist best known for his powerful metal-relief paintings and technically innovative prints, was recognized in the early 1960s as one of the most important proponents of the new geometric abstraction. In a career of over five decades, his art evolved from minimalist form toward greater complexity and exuberance of color, creating a body of work that established Stella as the most prominent abstract artist of our time.
In the beginning, Stella’s paintings directly informed his printmaking, following the compositions and reflecting the distinction of a particular series. These early prints rephrased the paintings in variations of color and scale and in the realm of print media, primarily lithography. In the 1980s, the prints, although still linked to the painting series, became independent in their imagery and began to incorporate actual materials and methods from the paintings into their production.
New directions in Stella’s printmaking also led to an increasingly complex use of print media, variously combining lithography, screenprinting, intaglio, and woodcut on color-stained handmade paper. Discarded color trial proofs from previous series and new, often computerized, proofs became material that Stella cut-up and stapled down for collages that were adapted to printing elements. Scrap metal from the relief paintings and from previous print series became the primary printing elements that were collaged together to create assembled plates. In physicality and imagery, the reciprocities among Stella’s later paintings, reliefs, sculpture, and prints are complex, with the prints playing a central role. Stella has tellingly said: “the prints are in all of my work.” To put this aspect of the artist’s prints into perspective, the exhibition includes, alongside a broad survey of the editioned prints, color trial proofs; an oil, ground glass, and crayon painting; and a mixed media metal-relief painting from the artist’s personal collection.
Many of Stella’s mort important print series are represented in the exhibition, including, among others: Black Series I (1967), Exotic Birds (1977), Polar Co-ordinates for Ronnie Peterson (1980), Circuits (1982–83), Swan Engravings (1982–85), Moby Dick Engravings (1991), Imaginary Places (1994–99), Near East Monoprints (1999–2001), and the Schwarze Weisheit Series (2000). Stella’s titles are richly allusive and range in meanings from the historical, geographical, and political to the personal and literary, the latter reflecting the artist’s emerging interest in “abstract narration” in the 1980s. In references, for example, to nineteenth-century American clipper ships, Civil War battles, endangered and extinct birds, Formula 1 racetracks, Italian folktales, and Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, the titles add another sensuous dimension to Stella’s richly layered art.
Stella has made the majority of his prints in collaboration with master printer Kenneth Tyler. Perhaps the most technically innovative of all twentieth-century printers, Tyler was a perfect match for Stella’s own restless technical and stylistic imagination—creating what the critic Robert Hughes characterized in 1984 as “one of the great partnerships in modern American art.” So intimate and successful was the Stella/Tyler relationship that when Tyler Graphics Ltd. closed its workshop in 2001, Stella stopped making prints.
The dedication and imagination of Frank Stella have shaped an artistic endeavor of singular achievement and perpetual invention. His abstraction has ranged from precise geometry to free and ebullient gesture, from stark black and gray to luminous color. He has created a
body of work of remarkable dimension that encompasses solemnity and antic humor, the elegiac and the ecstatic. His reinvigoration of the expressive potential and power of abstraction remains his most profound legacy. Stella’s prints recapitulate and expand upon the remarkable scope of his work in other media. They stand as an authentic index to the genius of his art.
Support for Frank Stella Prints: A Retrospective has been made possible by a grant from the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation.
The lead corporate sponsor of the exhibition is BMO Private Bank.
Generous support has also been provided by Sylvia Vaccaro; the Theda and Tamblin Clark Smith Family Foundation; Marc and Astrid Vaccaro; TravelWisconsin.com; the Steinhauer Charitable Trust; Madison Print Club; National Guardian Life Insurance; Terry Haller; Sara Guyer and Scott Straus; Perkins Coie LLP; Dane Arts; Hooper Corporation/General Heating & Air Conditioning; RSM; a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and National Endowment for the Arts; and MMoCA Volunteers.
Housed in a soaring, Cesar Pelli designed building, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art provides free exhibitions and education programs that engage people in modern and contemporary art. The galleries offer changing exhibitions that feature established and emerging artists. The Rooftop Sculpture Garden provides an urban oasis with an incredible view. The museum is open: Tuesday–Thursday: noon – 5pm; Friday: noon – 8pm; Saturday: 10am – 8pm; Sunday: noon – 5pm; and is closed on Mondays.