By Craig Davis, Craigslegztravels.com
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Travel isn’t always about taking a trip to a physical place.
That was evident in viewing the expansive exhibit of Frank Stella’s works at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale.
The approximately 300 paintings, relief sculpture and drawings represent a journey spanning 60 years through the career of one of America’s most influential artists.
The Frank Stella: Experiment and Change exhibition, which has filled most of the Fort Lauderdale museum since November 2017 and continuing through the end of July 2018, is a tour through a significant branch of contemporary art history.
I regard travel as personal exploration and discovery. Wandering the rooms over two floors of the museum was as revealing as following Gaudi’s architectural influences through Barcelona and viewing the natural wonders in Utah’s national parks.
It revealed a remarkable journey for Stella, who at 82 is still very much active in the pursuit of experiment and change.
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What a trip it has been, from minimalist beginnings with Stella’s Black Paintings in the late 1950s to the massive and cartoonishly colorful abstract sculptures fashioned from aluminum, stainless steel and other metals later in his career.
Stella is recognized within the art world as one of America’s most important living artists for advancing abstract painting and continuing to evolve it and elevate it over decades.
Today’s visual artists don’t receive the widespread attention and scrutiny in our society that is accorded performance artists and athletes. Somehow Stella doesn’t register the popular name recognition of Warhol, Pollock, O’Keeffe or even Jasper Johns, one of his early influences.
Thus, in returning to the travel metaphor, the Stella exhibit in Fort Lauderdale was like finding an unheralded resort happily not overrun with tourists.
The most extraordinary aspect of the Stella exhibit is the large room featuring his working archive, a collection of personal sketches, notes and maquettes. It is a rare glimpse into an artist’s creative process, and the first time Stella has displayed them.
Intriguing insight into the journey of an artist who has been all over the map with form and materials.
Early on he used house paint because it was cheaper than those tubes of oil or acrylics from the art stores, which get pricy to cover the size canvases he was painting.
Along the way he’s fashioned art out of various metals, plastics and exotic materials including carbon fiber and titanium. At one point in the early 1980s he created a series of hanging sculptures with objects that could have been gathered from a junkyard or odds-and-ends in a basement.
Stella went from working with carefully laid out geometric shapes to freeform lines bounded only by the imagination.
Most interesting is his Smoke Rings series of collages depicting the vagaries of cigar smoke. The idea stemmed from his interest in the Chaos Theory and was his way to convey shapes and dimensionality through the infinite patterns of fractal geometry.
Stella actually blew cigar smoke into a box lined with black cloth and photographed it. The images were enhanced by 3D computer imaging and printed.
The result is trippy and imaginative, much like Stella’s career as a whole.
Frank Stella: Experiment and Change is a fascinating journey into an artist’s mind. Intrigued to see where his imagination may yet lead.