“The Gifts of Frank Stella”: The Addison Employs Minimalism With Contemporary Art in New Exhibition

On an uneven, geometric, sprawling canvas, an orange triangle containing a smaller blue triangle juts out of the right side of the canvas. The rest of the work is solid purple shaped by a thick pale line, embodying minimalism and focusing on the essentials of form. The piece, painted with fluorescent alkyd and epoxy paint on canvas, was created by Frank Stella ’54 in 1966 and is titled “Tuftenboro IV.” Due to necessary painting conservation, the artwork has not been displayed in decades, according to Allison Kemmerer, curator of “The Gifts of Frank Stella.”

“It’s very precise. You don’t get to see individual brushstrokes. You can see the artist’s hand up close, but it’s very neutral. This is the other thing of moving away from expression and just creating work that is basically what you see is what you get. It’s color, it’s shape, it’s a shaped canvas. While it might not seem so innovative now, it was a huge and revolutionary innovation. It’s less about the artist’s hand and their unconscious spilled onto the canvas than it is about process and form and perception, how we perceive color and shapes and what it does for us,” said Kemmerer.

“Tuftenboro IV” is the centerpiece of “The Gifts of Frank Stella,” one of the Addison Gallery of American Art’s three newest exhibits. The exhibit features contemporary donations from Stella’s personal artwork collection. According to Kemmerer, these donations were meant to inspire art students at Andover just like the contemporary work in the Addison inspired Stella when he attended Andover.

“[Stella] collaborated with our director, Jock Reynolds [’65] to do an art drive where he could solicit donations to bolster our contemporary holdings. His idea was to donate works that reflected contemporary times, to bolster our contemporary acquisitions and inspire the students here, so all of these works come from his private collection… They were treasures when we got them, and they still are. These are works that there’s no way we would’ve been able to acquire on our own. They’re so valuable and important. So he really had a huge role in strengthening our holdings of contemporary art and guiding its direction,” said Kemmerer.

One of two sculptures in the exhibit was John Chamberlain’s 1962 piece titled “Belvo-Violet.” The piece is made up entirely of welded steel that Chamberlain found in automotive junkyards and painted with a mix of metallic and bright colors. According to Ryan Beckwith ’19, the abstraction of the work invokes the spontaneity of a car crash.

“It seems to encompass… a car or pieces of twisted metal coming together; this reminds me of a car crash or something like that. That’s what it invokes in me. The sheer complexity and abstract design leaves it open to interpretation which is interesting. The color is very monotone. There’s not much variation, and I think it shows the age and wear, that these pieces of metal were used in actual cars and used on an everyday basis,” said Beckwith.

Another notable work is Jasper John’s 1958 piece titled “Target,” completed with sculp-metal and collage on canvas. Resembling the concentric circles in a cross-section of a tree’s trunk, the piece features bigger engraved circles surrounding the smaller ones, all with the same center. The metal appears to be cracking randomly across the canvas, giving the work an antique look.

“Jasper Johns is a little bit different because I wouldn’t consider him a minimalist. He’s an artist who actually inspired Stella. He predates him and inspired him and these others by bringing subject matter. This is a target, and he talks about how working with an object that is so common, everybody knows it, frees him up to explore normal things like texture and material. That’s sculpt metal which is a metal that’s mixed with lacquer. He’s a little different because he has subject matter. These [other] works are devoid of subject matter while his work has a recognizable object. There’s something to recognize,” said Kemmerer.

Lining the hallway up to “The Gifts of Frank Stella” are a series of works by Stephen Greene, Stella’s professor at Princeton University. The 1999 “Selections from Labyrinth” features 15 pieces of mixed media on paper and was a gift from the Stephen Greene Foundation in honor of Stella. The works incorporate splashes of color over patterns of black. Some involve more figurations and shapes, while others involve much fewer complexities.

“We thought it was neat to have Stephen Greene march up to Frank Stella and to show how it speaks to Stephen Greene’s skill as a teacher in that Frank feels really indebted to him. He learned a lot from him, but at the same time, he clearly gave his students freedom to find their own voice. Their styles are nothing alike, although interestingly enough, his work more recently, there are things that you can see common in their works,” said Kemmerer.

“The Gifts of Frank Stella” will be open at the Addison until July 30, 2017.