Elizabeth Murray and Frank Stella – Separated at Birth?

THE DAILY PIC: Looking at Murray's work gets at a satirical thread in Stella's.


THE DAILY PIC (#1447): This (left) is Elizabeth Murray’s Beam (1982), from the collection at MoMA, which gave Murray her big retrospective a decade ago. But I’m actually Pic-ing it today as part of my last comment on the Whitney’s show of Frank Stella (his Gobba, zoppa e collotorto (1985) is my right-hand image).

A friend of mine pointed out to me that some of the things I’ve been claiming about Stella over the last few weeks – finding realism and the feminine and decoration in his abstraction – all come together in Murray’s cartoonish work, which hit its stride just when Stella was embarking on his baroque, post-Hard Edge career. It’s as though Murray gives us a more full-bodied version of Stella’s resistance to the sober modern tradition – even if he himself didn’t quite aim to resist.

Looking at Murray’s work shines a light on something that was true from the beginning about Stella’s: That it lined up with the comic, satirical vein that runs so deep in American culture and art, from Mark Twain to Winsor McCay to Philip Guston. Maybe that vein runs right through to Stella’s so-called “sell out” in the 1980s, when his giant reliefs started to appear in every corporate lobby. Stella’s commercial excess at that moment can be read as close to Warhol’s, where the sheer quantity of product coming out of the studio undermines the billionaires’ hopes that they are betting their money on the latest Old Master. Since at least the time of the Roman Saturnalia and Medieval Feast of Fools,  exuberance and extravagance have been seen as  moves against the powers that be. (MURRAY: Gift of Anna Marie and Robert F. Shapiro in honor of Richard E. Oldenburg © 2015 Estate of Elizabeth Murray / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York – STELLA: The Art Institute of Chicago; Mr. and Mrs. Frank G. Logan Purchase Prize Fund; Ada Turnbull Hertle Endowment 1986.93. © 2015 Frank Stella/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

For a full survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

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