The Facts

This blog has given a fair amount of time to Frank Stella, and my attention was moving to other things—there are a few posts coming up on the topic of time. However, my interest in Stella has just been revived because two days ago I unexpectedly had a chance to see five major Moby Dick pieces. I was particularly curious about the backs, because in the essay I wrote before Christmas last year I laid great stress on the way the backs are handled, and those thoughts were based on a limited knowledge of the works. I might have been wrong. The backs deserve more discussion, but for now what’s moving me most strongly is the sheer materiality of the works, evident in these photographs. What looks in the first one to be a gouge in the metal could be a weld. Cutting or stitching are the same thing

Frank Stella,

Frank Stella, The Musket (detail back) 1990

in the end. Meanwhile, the drawing and coloring on the backs is full of energy and intelligence. He makes extensive use of dripping, pouring, mixing wet in wet and crackling, along with drawn lines which are sometimes etched.

back2

Frank Stella, The Chapel (back view detail) 1990

We’ve all seen bad painterly painting, and it’s easy to get tired of it. The minimalist turn was a valid response to that. But man, am I sick of cute little conceptual gestures. Did a short tour of galleries in Toronto on the same day and have finally lost patience with coy mannerisms. Not mentioning any names, but a survey of what is showing on Dundas and Queen streets in Toronto right now will tell the tale. One wants to keep an open mind, and when the work is conceptual it is easy to credit the idea and overlook the style and feel, and yet art is all style and feel or it is nothing. There’s room for all kinds of art and a wide range of feeling, but photo conceptualism has really run it’s course.

A tour of Toronto makes it clear that the art world is full of posing, but I would never discourage that. Prancing and fleering and flirting and voguing is sexual display, so very natural and can’t be kept out of art. We should never draw a distinction between appearance and essence, between surface and depth, because in art the form is the content. But if we want to take surfaces seriously we have to exercise our taste, which by rights should be more astute than our theories. Some prancing and smirking feels like art and some doesn’t, and however hard it is to distinguish between them in theory, there is a difference in practice. In my view, the taste for the material, concrete and factual needs to be better cultivated today.

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