Frank Stella at the Whitney Museum

Happy New Year!
I decided to start 2016 with a big show and the Frank Stella exhibition at the Whitney Museum definitely qualifies as a really big exhibition. When the elevator door opens into the first gallery,the viewer is met by two very different canvases: a large, geometric, consecutive squares painting, and a huge abstract that is exuberant to the point of being Baroque. The dichotomy of these two works highlights the the range of styles and themes explored throughout the galleries. On display are the all black paintings from the late 1950’s, as well as the colorful geometric square-and-shape canvases from the 1960’s. Also included are the wall sculptures from the 1980’s and the more recent work created using 3-D printing.
For the purposes of this entry I decided to concentrate on Stella’s paintings from the 1960’s. These works are clearly about geometry. Some of the artist’s sketches and schematic diagrams are on display as a group. I highly recommend taking a close look at these plans, they really highlight the mathematical processes involved in the paintings.

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Stella – “Jasper’s Dilemma” – 1962

The two canvases of  “Jasper’s Dilemma” each have the same  spiral geometric structure, but the left canvas features a system of the color spectrum, while the right canvas is composed of shades of gray. Stella has built these spirals within the squares by creating two sets of isosceles triangles. The set with vertical bases are slightly larger than the triangles with the horizontal bases. This results in only one diagonal line on each canvas and the four triangles do not all meet at the same point.

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Stella – “Empress of India” -1965 – Metallic powder in polymer emulsion on canvas

“Empress of India” is a monumental shaped canvas featuring a series of four V-shaped sections, each featuring a line of reflection symmetry and a 60 degree angle at the point of the “V”. There is also an interesting line of order-2 rotational symmetry running diagonally through the center section of the work.

Both “Jasper’s Dilemma” and “Empress of India” spotlight Frank Stella’s dedication to developing complex geometric structures in his work during the 1960’s.

Keep posted for many more observations on Mathematics and Art in 2016

Susan Happersett

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