With misgivings I temporarily swerve away from the formal discussion of Stella’s Moby Dick series to an art world perspective. Benjamin Buchloh recounts that Gerhard Richter intervened to help scuttle Stella’s proposal for a museum in Dresden, Richter’s home town.
What a shameful incident. American artists have pulled those kind of stunts many times, blocking shows in New York by Soulages and Buren to name the two most famous examples, but I don’t know that Stella ever has. In a talk given after the fact, Stella did not allude to this aspect of the controversy at all, but stuck to the architectural and planning issues at stake. I have no idea of the particulars of Richter’s position contra Stella, and Buchloh likely gives it his own spin, yet the fact that he mentions this contretemps without discussing architecture at all suggests that the German artist has no ideas in the field. That the only public work by Richer that I am aware of is a stained glass window in a cathedral does not inspire confidence.
Buchloh describes the two as “…senior colleagues and competitors in the field of abstract painting in corporate culture.” If that’s all there was to it then the more shameful, but of course it is apparently a matter of principle. According to Buchloh “Most important, I would argue, is his [Richter’s] opposition to abstraction as an enforcement of myth, which is, of course, precisely the principle according to which Stella’s abstraction has functioned successfully for a considerable period of time.” Now again this may not be exactly Richter’s position on Stella, but it is very wrong. Granted the Black Paintings, for their time, were an extreme of rationality and perhaps even demystification, but I don’t see Stella selling myths during all the years since. It seems to me that what the Black Paintings stood for, and what they accomplished, is still present in his work. This is not a contradiction of an earlier post, just a dialectical enlargement of it.