Leger and Stella

The resemblance of Stella’s Cones and Pillars series and the work of Leger  is pretty clear, although to contemplate it is still interesting. Stella has a true modernist genius for picking up on the least promising sources. This Leger could be called “dance of the red stripes.”

Fernand Leger, Mechanical Element 1918-23

Fernand Leger, Mechanical Element 1918-23

The space is peculiar – modeled volumes tumble against a background that looks like it’s trying to be something cubist, but failing, with a few flat planes interposed here and there in the jumble.  The oddness of Leger’s work is what will help it survive, but its non-cubist modernism is likely what attracted Stella. The crazy surface decoration on the Cones and

Frank Stella, la Vecchia dell'Orto 1986

Frank Stella, La Vecchia dell’Orto 1986

Pillars could be a distraction, or we might see it as a way to join Leger type mechanical fantasy to abstract expressionism – and why not? Leger’s sculptural pictorialism (strange thought) could also be related to The Planar Dimension discussed earlier.

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4 Responses to Leger and Stella

  1. Naomi Schlinke says:

    I think your comparison of the two pieces is spot on. But something about Stella’s work has been puzzling me. In his book, “Working Space”, he urges contemporary abstract painters to move beyond pigment and materiality and allow the illusion of space to thrive in an abstract universe. Oddly, I find much of his work airless and flat. I can’t enter his painted sculptures even in my mind. The parts seem to be positioned to lock out any open space. The virtual space in the Leger, on the other hand, feels like it might be part of a vast factory.

    • Naomi, I think I know what you mean. Certainly the writers on AbCrit would agree with you. I don’t think he should be held too tightly to what he said in Working Space. Much closer to his actual work is a later essay called Grimm’s Ecstasy. I think he accepts modernist flatness, and certainly wants to stay heavy and material. Whether there should be a Kandinsky-like illusionist space in abstraction is not clear with Stella. It’s an unresolved question. His prints might have a bit more of that. In any case, the big relief paintings are difficult to see under the best circumstances, and probably need more concentrated attention over a long span of time before conclusions can be drawn. At least that’s my experience, and I’ve seen a few.

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