Frank Stella, Whose Last Name Means Star, Is Unamused by the Fact That His Next Museum Show Is Dedicated to Stars in His Work

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut will mount “Frank Stella’s Stars” next May.

Frank Stella, 2015. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Kristine Larsen.
Frank Stella, 2015. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Kristine Larsen.

In 1965, Frank Stella was given his first museum show at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Fifty-five years later, the venerable artist is set to return to the institution for another solo outing. 

Next year, the Aldrich will host “Frank Stella’s Stars,” a new survey dedicated to the artist, who will turn 84 a few days before it opens on May 17. 

As its name suggests, the show will trace Stella’s use of the star shape throughout his career, from his Minimalist, polygonal paintings that made him famous in the ’60s to the angular sculpture he has formed in the past decade. Curated by Richard Klein, exhibitions director at the Aldrich, and Amy Smith-Stewart, the museum’s senior curator, it will span the museum’s grounds, with a number of the artist’s monumental sculptures installed in the garden outside. 

Frank Stella, <i>Corian Star II</i> (2017). Courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York and Aspen. © 2019 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Frank Stella, Corian Star II (2017). Courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York and Aspen. © 2019 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Stella was 29 at the time of the first Aldrich show. The museum, meanwhile, wasn’t even yet toddler age. It was founded the year prior by Larry Aldrich, a contemporary art collector who sold off a number of Modernist masterpieces to buy an old church building in Connecticut. (The institution was called Larry Aldrich Museum until 1967.) 

The word “stella” means “star” in Latin—a fact you’re sure to read if you end up at the Aldrich show. But don’t tell Frank this.  

“I don’t particularly want to hear about that,” Stella tells artnet News, laughing, in a brief conversation about the upcoming show. He’s phoning from his studio in upstate New York. “I don’t really want to listen to people telling me that star shapes are like my name. The idea about them is pretty much straightforward. They have a form and create an image.” 

Frank Stella, <i>Stainless split star with truss segments</i> (2016). Courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York and Aspen. © 2019 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Frank Stella, Stainless split star with truss segments (2016). Courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York and Aspen. © 2019 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Stella’s response isn’t surprising. It would be foolish to expect that such an easy autobiographical connection would mean anything to an artist who famously espoused a maxim of “what you see is what you see.” 

Indeed, Stella—one of the pioneers of the shaped canvas in the late ’60s—is all about form. The fact that he’s returning to the spot where he had his first show 55 years ago is less interesting to him than the layout of the building itself—and the way his work interacts with it. (He hardly remembers the show in ‘65.)

“Museums come in all shapes and sizes; they have different effects, in a way,” Stella says. “For an artist, it’s just a different place. I’m mainly interested in how the work looks in that place, as far as I can understand it. I’ll be interested to see how the pieces look there, see if I recognize them.”

Frank Stella, <i>K.432</i> (2013). Courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York and Aspen. © 2019 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Frank Stella, K.432 (2013). Courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York and Aspen. © 2019 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Frank Stella’s Stars, A Survey” runs at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum from May 17 to October 11, 2020.


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