Frank Stella
Stella in 2012
Frank Philip Stella

(1936-05-12)May 12, 1936
DiedMay 4, 2024(2024-05-04) (aged 87)
New York City, U.S.
Known for

Frank Philip Stella (May 12, 1936 – May 4, 2024) was an American painter, sculptor, and printmaker, noted for his work in the areas of minimalism and post-painterly abstraction. He lived and worked in New York City for much of his career before moving his studio to Rock Tavern, New York. Stella was a recipient of the National Medal of Arts in 2009 and the Lifetime Achievement Award in Contemporary Sculpture by the International Sculpture Center in 2011.


Frank Stella was born in Malden, Massachusetts, on May 12, 1936, to first-generation Italian-American parents, as the oldest of their three children.[1] His grandparents on both sides had immigrated to the United States at the turn of the 20th century from Sicily. His father, Frank Sr., was a gynecologist, and his mother Constance (née Santonelli) was a housewife and artist[2] who attended fashion school and later took up landscape painting.[3]

In his sophomore year of high school at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts,[4] the abstractionist Patrick Morgan, a teacher at the school, began teaching Stella how to paint. After entering Princeton University to earn a degree in history, Stella took art courses and was introduced to the New York art scene by painter Stephen Greene and art historian William Seitz, professors at the school who brought him to exhibitions in the city. His work was influenced by abstract expressionism.[1] He is heralded by the Birmingham Museum of Art for having created abstract paintings that bear "no pictorial illusions or psychological or metaphysical references in twentieth-century painting".[5]

In the 1970s, he moved into NoHo in Manhattan in New York City.[6] As of 2015, Stella lived in Greenwich Village and kept an office there but commuted on weekdays to his studio in Rock Tavern, New York.[3]


Late 1950s and early 1960s

Jasper's Dilemma (1962–1963) at the National Gallery of Art in 2022

After moving to New York City in the late 1950s, Stella began to create works which emphasized the picture-as-object. His visits to the art galleries of New York, where he was exposed to the abstract expressionist work of artists like Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock, had exerted a great influence on his development as an artist.[7]

He created a series of paintings in 1958–1959 known as his "Black Paintings" which flouted conventional ideas of painterly composition. Using commercial enamel paint and a house-painter's brush, he painted black stripes of the same width and evenly spaced on bare canvas, leaving the thin strips of canvas between them unpainted and exposed, along with his pencil-and-ruler drawn guidelines.[8]

Stella repudiated all efforts by critics to interpret his work, dismissing them with his well-known tautology, "What you see is what you see",[8] which became "the unofficial motto of the minimalist movement", according to the New York Times.[9]

Die Fahne Hoch! (1959) takes its name ("Hoist the Flag!"[10] or "Raise the Flag!" in English) from the first line of the "Horst-Wessel-Lied",[11] the anthem of the Nazi Party. According to Stella himself, the painting has similar proportions as flags used by that organization.[12]

In 1959, several of his paintings were included in Three Young Americans at the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College, as well as in Sixteen Americans at the Museum of Modern Art in New York the same year.[7]

From 1960, his works used shaped canvases,[13] developing in 1966 into more elaborate designs, as in the Irregular Polygon series (67).[14]

Stella married Barbara Rose, later a well-known art critic, in 1961.[15] Around this time he said that a picture was "a flat surface with paint on it – nothing more".[16]

Late 1960s and early 1970s

Frank Stella Harran II, 1967

In 1967, Stella designed the set and costumes for Scramble, a dance piece by Merce Cunningham.[17] The same year, his began his Protractor Series (71) of paintings, which feature arcs, sometimes overlapping,[18] within square borders named after circular-plan cities he had visited while in the Middle East earlier in the 1960s.[19][20]

The Museum of Modern Art in New York presented a retrospective of Stella's work in 1970, making him the youngest artist to receive one.[21]

In the next decade, Stella brought to his artistic productions the element of relief, which he called "maximalist" painting because it had sculptural attributes. He presented wood and other materials in his Polish Village series (1970–1973), executed in high relief. Through the 1970s and 1980s, as these works became more uninhibited and intricate, his minimalism became baroque.[17] In 1976, Stella was commissioned by BMW to paint a BMW 3.0 CSL for the second installment in the BMW Art Car Series.[22] He said of this project, "The starting point for the art cars was racing livery. The graph paper is what it is, a graph, but when it's morphed over the car's forms it becomes interesting. Theoretically it's like painting on a shaped canvas."[23]

In 1969, Stella was commissioned to create a logo for the Metropolitan Museum of Art Centennial.[24]

In 1978, he married pediatrician Harriet McGurk.[25]

1980s and afterward

Frank Stella La scienza della fiacca, 1984, oil paint, enamel paint, and alkyd paint on canvas, etched magnesium, aluminum and fiberglass, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Stella's Memantra, 2005, exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, Stella produced a large oeuvre that grappled with Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick in a broad way.[2] In this period of his career, as the relief of his paintings became increasingly higher with more undercutting, the process eventually resulted in fully three-dimensional sculptural forms that he derived from decorative architectural elements, and incorporating French curves, pillars, waves, and cones. To generate these works, he made collages or scale models that were subsequently enlarged to the original's specifications by his assistants, along with the use of digital technology and industrial metal cutters.[17]

In 1993, he designed and executed for Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre a 10,000-square-foot mural installation which covers the ceiling of the dome, the proscenium arch and the exterior rear wall of the building.[17][26] The mural for the dome was based on computer-generated imagery.[27] In 1997, he oversaw the installation of the 5,000-square-foot Euphonia at the Moores Opera House at the Rebecca and John J. Moores School of Music at the University of Houston, in Houston, Texas.[28][29] A monumental sculpture of his, titled Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, Ein Schauspiel, 3X, was installed outside the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.[30][31]

The titles for Stella's Scarlatti Sonata Kirkpatrick series evoke the rhythms and sounds of the harpsichord sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti.[32]

From 1978 to 2005, Stella owned the Van Tassell and Kearney Horse Auction Mart building in Manhattan's East Village and used it as his studio which resulted in the facade being restored.[33] After a six-year campaign by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, the historic building was designated a New York City Landmark in 2012.[34] After 2005, Stella split his time between his West Village apartment and his Newburgh, New York, studio.[35]

By the turn of the 2010s, Stella started using the computer as a painterly tool to produce stand-alone star-shaped sculptures.[36] The resulting stars are often monochrome, black or beige or naturally metallic, and their points can take the form of solid planes, spindly lines or wire-mesh circuits.[36] His Jasper's Split Star (2017), a sculpture constructed out of six small geometric grids that rest on an aluminum base, was installed at 7 World Trade Center in 2021.[37] In late 2022, Stella launched an NFT (non-fungible token) that includes the right to the CAD files to 3D print the art works in the NFTs.[38]

Artists' rights

On June 6, 2008, Stella (with Artists Rights Society president Theodore Feder; Stella was a member artist of the Artists Rights Society[39]) published an op-ed for The Art Newspaper decrying a proposed U.S. Orphan Works law which "remove[s] the penalty for copyright infringement if the creator of a work, after a diligent search, cannot be located".[40]

In the op-ed, Stella wrote,

The Copyright Office presumes that the infringers it would let off the hook would be those who had made a "good faith, reasonably diligent" search for the copyright holder. Unfortunately, it is totally up to the infringer to decide if he has made a good faith search.

The Copyright Office proposal would have a disproportionately negative, even catastrophic, impact on the ability of painters and illustrators to make a living from selling copies of their work.[40]

Gallery of works


Stella's work was included in several exhibitions in the 1960s, among them the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum's The Shaped Canvas (1965) and Systemic Painting (1966).[41] The Museum of Modern Art in New York presented a second retrospective of Stella's work in 1970.[17]

In 2012, a retrospective of Stella's career was shown at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg.[42]

Frank Stella's work Protractor Variation I (1969) is featured in the collections display of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, Florida.[43]


In 2014, Stella gave his sculpture Adjoeman (2004) as a long-term loan to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.[44] His works are in the collections of many major art institutions, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Art Institute of Chicago;[45] the Pérez Art Museum Miami;[43] the List Visual Arts Center at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge; the Tate; the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; and the Kunstmuseum Basel.[45]


Stella gave the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures in 1984, calling for a rejuvenation of abstraction by achieving the depth of baroque painting.[46] These six talks were published by Harvard University Press in 1986 under the title Working Space.[47]

In 2009, Frank Stella was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama.[48] In 2011, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award in Contemporary Sculpture by the International Sculpture Center.[49] In 1996, he received an honorary Doctorate from the University of Jena in Jena, Germany, where his large sculptures of the "Hudson River Valley Series" are on permanent display, becoming the second artist to receive this honorary degree after Auguste Rodin in 1906.[50]

Art market

In May 2019, Christie's set an auction record for one of Stella's works with the sale of his Point of Pines, which sold for $28 million.[51]

In April 2021, his Scramble: Ascending Spectrum/Ascending Green Values (1977) was sold for £2.4 million ($3.2 million with premium) in London. The painting was bought for $1.9 million in 2006 from the collection of Belgian art patrons Roger and Josette Vanthournout at Sotheby's.[52]

Personal life and death

From 1961 to 1969, Stella was married to art historian Barbara Rose; they had two children, Rachel and Michael.[15] At the time of his death, he was married to Harriet E. McGurk, a pediatrician.[9] They had two sons, Patrick and Peter.[9] He also had two children from his first marriage and a daughter from a relationship with Shirley De Lemos Wyse between his marriages.[9]

Stella died of lymphoma at his home in West Village, Manhattan, on May 4, 2024, eight days before his 88th birthday.[9]

Selected bibliography


  1. ^ a b "Frank Stella Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works". The Art Story. 2024. Archived from the original on May 6, 2019. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
  2. ^ a b Darwent, Charles (May 5, 2024). "Frank Stella Obituary". The Guardian. Archived from the original on May 5, 2024. Retrieved May 6, 2024.
  3. ^ a b Solomon, Deborah (September 7, 2015). "The Whitney Taps Frank Stella for an Inaugural Retrospective at Its New Home". The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 22, 2024. Retrieved May 6, 2024.
  4. ^ Peter Schjeldahl (November 9, 2015), "Big Ideas: a Frank Stella Retrospective", The New Yorker, archived from the original on March 4, 2021, retrieved July 23, 2016
  5. ^ Birmingham Museum of Art (2010). Visitors' View: Flin Flon VI. [Birmingham, Ala]: Birmingham Museum of Art. p. 236. ISBN 978-1-904832-77-5. Archived from the original on August 6, 2016.
  6. ^ Kenneth T. Jackson, Lisa Keller, Nancy Flood (2010). The Encyclopedia of New York City, Second Edition, Yale University Press.
  7. ^ a b Martone, Eric, ed. (2016). Italian Americans: The History and Culture of a People. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. 350. ISBN 979-8-216-10559-6.
  8. ^ a b Marzona, Daniel (2004). Minimal Art. Taschen. pp. 9–10. ISBN 978-3-8228-3060-4.
  9. ^ a b c d e Grimes, William (May 4, 2024). "Frank Stella, Towering Artist and Master of Reinvention, Dies at 87". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 4, 2024. Retrieved May 4, 2024.
  10. ^ Whitney Staff. "Frank Stella | Die Fahne hoch!". Archived from the original on May 5, 2024. Retrieved May 5, 2024.
  11. ^ Hopkins, David (2000). After Modern Art 1945–2000. Oxford University Press. pp. 135–136. ISBN 978-0-19-284234-3.
  12. ^ Salus, Carol (2010). "Frank Stella's Polish Village Series and Related Works: Heritage and Alliance". Shofar. 28 (2): 142. ISSN 0882-8539. JSTOR 10.5703/shofar.28.2.139. Archived from the original on September 21, 2023. Retrieved May 5, 2024. The artist provided a number of factors involved in his selection of Die Fahne Hoch! With its title taken from the first line of the Horst Wessel song (Die Fahne hoch! Die Reihen fest geschlossen!), the Nazi Party anthem, this march song was sung at public meetings and used as a musical background for the Nuremburg rallies of the 1930s. Stella said for him it recalled a waving flag, adding: "The thing that stuck in my mind was the Nazi newsreels—that big draped swastika—the big hanging flag—has pretty much those dimensions." Stella pointed out that the proportions of his canvas (10'1" x 6'1") are much the same as the large flags displayed by the Nazis.
  13. ^ Cateforis, David (2005). Janovy, Karen O.; Siedell, Daniel A. (eds.). Sculpture from the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery. U of Nebraska Press. pp. 196–198. ISBN 978-0-8032-7629-1.
  14. ^ Leider, Philip (April 1, 1970). "Abstraction and Literalism: Reflections on Stella at the Modern". Artforum. Vol. 8, no. 8. Artforum Media. Archived from the original on October 29, 2023. Retrieved May 5, 2024.
  15. ^ a b Solomon, Deborah (December 27, 2020). "Barbara Rose, Critic and Historian of Modern Art, Dies at 84". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 27, 2020. Retrieved May 5, 2024.
  16. ^ D'Acierno, Pellegrino (1998). The Italian American Heritage: A Companion to Literature and Arts. Taylor & Francis. pp. 528–529. ISBN 978-0-8153-0380-0.
  17. ^ a b c d e Guggenheim Staff (2024). "Frank Stella". The Guggenheim Museums and Foundation. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Archived from the original on May 6, 2024. Retrieved May 6, 2024.
  18. ^ Kaji-O'Grady, Sandra (2001). "3: The Development of Serialism in the Visual Arts". Serialism in Art and Architecture: Context and Theory. Monash University. p. 75. Archived from the original on May 6, 2024. Retrieved May 5, 2024.
  19. ^ Metropolitan Museum of Art Staff. "Frank Stella | YAZD III". The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Archived from the original on May 5, 2024. Retrieved May 5, 2024.
  20. ^ Chougnet, Jean-François (2007). Museu Berardo: An Itinerary. Thames & Hudson. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-500-28700-2.
  21. ^ "Frank Stella | MoMA". The Museum of Modern Art. Archived from the original on October 27, 2021. Retrieved August 10, 2021.
  22. ^ Lewin, Tony (2021). BMW M: 50 Years of the Ultimate Driving Machines. Motorbooks. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-7603-6848-0. The dramatic, graph paper–themed CSL by Frank Stella was the second in BMW's Art Car series and was a crowd favorite when it competed in the 1976 24 Hours of Le Mans.
  23. ^ Taylor, James (2014). BMW Classic Coupes, 1965 – 1989: 2000C and CS, E9 and E24. Crowood. p. 157. ISBN 978-1-84797-847-9.
  24. ^ Finding aid for the George Trescher records related to The Metropolitan Museum of Art Centennial, 1949, 1960–1971 (bulk 1967–1970) Archived August 8, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved August 8, 2014.
  25. ^ O'Grady, Megan (March 18, 2020). "New York Times Style Magazine | The Constellation of Frank Stella – News – Berggruen Gallery". Bergruen Gallery News. Archived from the original on August 15, 2020. Retrieved May 5, 2024.
  26. ^ Charlebois, Gaëtan (August 20, 2021). "Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia – Princess of Wales Theatre". Archived from the original on August 8, 2007. Retrieved May 6, 2024.
  27. ^ Mather, Frank Jewett; Sherman, Frederic Fairchild (1994). Art in America. F.F. Sherman. p. 37.
  28. ^ "About the Stella Project in the Moores Opera House". Archived from the original on March 1, 2009.
  29. ^ "Home". April 25, 2012. Archived from the original on November 27, 2011. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
  30. ^ Lewis, Jo Ann (January 17, 2024). "Stella Sculpture to Land at National Gallery". Washington Post. Archived from the original on August 27, 2017. Retrieved May 6, 2024.
  31. ^ NGA Staff (1998–2001). "Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, Ein Schauspiel, 3X". National Gallery of Art. Archived from the original on October 31, 2019. Retrieved May 6, 2024.
  32. ^ The Phillips Collection Staff (June 11, 2011). "Stella Sounds | The Phillips Collection". Archived from the original on May 6, 2024. Retrieved May 6, 2024.
  33. ^ 128 East 13th Street [1] Archived October 10, 2014, at the Wayback Machine Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.
  34. ^ "Van Tassell & Kearney Auction Mart Designation Report" (PDF). New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Archived (PDF) from the original on February 1, 2021. Retrieved October 1, 2014.
  35. ^ Sightlines: Frank Stella Archived August 7, 2017, at the Wayback Machine The Wall Street Journal, March 15, 2010.
  36. ^ a b Jason Farago (February 4, 2021), In Frank Stella's Constellation of Stars, a Perpetual Evolution Archived November 30, 2021, at the Wayback Machine New York Times.
  37. ^ M.H. Miller (November 22, 2021), After 20 Years, Frank Stella Returns to Ground Zero Archived November 30, 2021, at the Wayback Machine New York Times.
  38. ^ Levin, Alex. "Frank Stella's New NFTs Come With The Right To Print His Art". Forbes. Archived from the original on March 9, 2023. Retrieved March 9, 2023.
  39. ^ "Artists Rights Society's List of Most Frequently Requested Artists". Archived from the original on February 6, 2015.
  40. ^ a b Frank Stella, "The proposed new law is a nightmare for artists," Archived October 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine The Art Newspaper, June 6, 2008.
  41. ^ "Artist Intro". Heather James. Archived from the original on August 8, 2021. Retrieved August 10, 2021.
  42. ^ Rhodes, David (November 2012). "Frank Stella: The Retrospective, Works 1958–2012". The Brooklyn Rail. Archived from the original on March 14, 2013. Retrieved December 20, 2012.
  43. ^ a b "Frank Stella • Pérez Art Museum Miami". Pérez Art Museum Miami. Archived from the original on May 30, 2023. Retrieved May 30, 2023.
  44. ^ Deborah Vankin (July 7, 2014), Abstract Frank Stella sculpture 'Adjoeman' joins Cedars-Sinai artworks Archived July 15, 2014, at the Wayback Machine Los Angeles Times.
  45. ^ a b MIT List Visual Arts Center Staff (January 13, 2022). "Heads or Tails, 1988 | MIT List Visual Arts Center". MIT List Visual Arts Center. Archived from the original on May 31, 2023. Retrieved May 30, 2023.
  46. ^ John Russell (March 18, 1984), Frank Stella at Harvard – The Artist as Lecturer Archived October 27, 2021, at the Wayback Machine The New York Times.
  47. ^ Frank Stella, Working Space (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), ISBN 0-674-95961-2. Listing Archived November 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine at Harvard University Press website.
  48. ^ White House Announces 2009 National Medal of Arts Recipients Archived May 5, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  49. ^ Ottmann, Klaus (April 1, 2011). "Action and Spatial Engagement: A Conversation with Frank Stella". Sculpture Magazine. Archived from the original on September 20, 2020. Retrieved May 6, 2024.
  50. ^ "Schrotthaufen oder Kunst? Frank Stella in Jena". Archived from the original on July 16, 2018. Retrieved November 1, 2016.
  51. ^ "RESULTS | 20th Century Week Totals $1.072 Billion". Christie's. May 17, 2019. Archived from the original on October 27, 2021. Retrieved June 29, 2020.
  52. ^ Villa, Angelica (April 15, 2021). "$34.2 M. Phillips London Sale Brings Tunji Adeniyi-Jones Record and Air of Optimism". Archived from the original on October 27, 2021. Retrieved April 17, 2021.