At the Whitney, Frank Stella Makes Realist Art

THE DAILY PIC: His works look like everyday things – in some alternate universe.


THE DAILY PIC (#1438): I think this 1961 painting called Palmito Ranch is the key to understanding the Frank Stella survey now at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

There’s no way that Stella didn’t recognize how much this early “abstraction” of his looks like a sheet of yellow foolscap. That means it’s much closer to the flags and targets of Jasper Johns, or even to Warhol’s Brillo boxes – real things simply presented as themselves – than to the strictly geometric rigors of Joseph Albers.

I think this is a principal behind almost everything Stella made: He wants to populate the world with art objects (abstract or not) that have the same resonance as all the “normal” things already there.

That puts Stella in touch with the Specific Objects of minimal art, but also at a far remove from them. Minimalism involves a purification and distillation, whereas Stella manages to keep the world’s peculiar goofiness intact.

One of modern art’s great discoveries has been that the readymade and the simply found – a sheet of foolscap, for instance, or a squeeze of toothpaste – can be more entrancing than anything that comes straight from the imagination. Stella, you could say, makes found-object art for a parallel universe.

His famous “What you see is what you see” applies just as well to a shopfront shot by Atget as it does to Malevich’s Black Square.

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