Moving Out and Staying Back

I’m still getting great enjoyment out of Frank Stella’s Moby Dick series, which seems to be a kind of culmination. With the next series, built around the writings of Kleist, he gives up the method of constructing in superimposed planes which marks his characteristic form of painted relief. The works are still reliefs, but now more on the side of sculpture, and he increasingly makes actual sculpture. As noted in the preceding post, there is a constant movement back and forth from the picture plane to real space. The relief paintings tread the line between the two possibilities, and many of the later sculptures likewise, as in this piece, layered over with applied flat shapes, like a collage, and built on a base that in


Frank Stella, Chatal Huyuk Shrine A III. I. 1999

some works he calls an “easel.” The cast smoke rings on the left hand side connect with the Kleist series, the cut in the curved support plane, which reveals another plane further back, is very cubist, and the cast “figure” on the right, with casting gates still attached, ensures that we can see the whole thing as a picture. This piece might represent a kind of doubling back to the plane after some of the freestanding sculptures included in Moby Dick, such as the following one, which I like quite a bit. It’s pictorial, but not because it has a plane

Frank Stella, The Life-Buoy (Q-17) 1990

Frank Stella, The Life-Buoy (Q-17) 1990

perpendicular to our vision, but because it seems to be an image of a lifeboat. But my chronology is all off here, because Stella did exactly the same thing within the Moby Dick series. The Town Ho’s Story is a massive freestanding sculpture, as narrative as any in the series, and as imagistic, depending on which angle one looks from. Tucked away around

Frank Stella,The Town-Ho's Story (side view) 1993

Frank Stella,The Town-Ho’s Story (side view showing Postscript at bottom left) 1993

the back (But how can a sculpture that is really a sculpture have a “back?” The way it’s placed in the building one side is hard to see, which indicates something.) is a smaller


Frank Stella, Postscript (Scrap #18) 1988-93

piece made of superimposed wave-whale shapes attached to a vertical plane, with casting gates still present. It looks like an unpainted maquette for a Moby Dick piece, seen from behind. Planes are everywhere in Stella’s work, and the normal way of viewing a picture is always affirmed, no matter how much the piece projects into our space.

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