View of “Frank Stella: Painting into Architecture,” 2007, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Foreground, Gate House (Model), 1994. Background, from left: The Broken Jug (Model), 1998; The Dart (D-15) 1X, 1990; and The Broken Jug (Left-Handed Version), 2007. All works by Frank Stella © Frank Stella/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Frank Stella

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“GIVEN THE FINE ARTS, architecture, painting, and sculpture, I feel caught in the middle,” Frank Stella said recently. For anyone with a passing knowledge of the work he has made over the course of the past fifty years, the statement is hardly surprising; for anyone who has kept up in the past fifteen, neither is the comment that followed: “Now I can’t stop thinking about architecture.” The oddity comes with what Stella said next: “I can only blame the pursuit of abstraction.”

It may seem a little unfair, in order to decipher this last remark, to begin years ago and worlds away, with the “Black Paintings.” Has any other artist’s early work ever so thoroughly conditioned his subsequent reception? But Stella’s “pursuit” did commence circa 1958 with those allover bands of black derived from support and frame, each subsequent canvas delivering a fresh blow to the flat picture plane’s promise

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