Thursday, January 20, 2011

Frank Stella, Irregular Polygons, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH

Chocorua IV
Fluorescent alkyd and epoxy paints on canvas, 120 x 128 x 4 in.
Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College: Purchased through the Miriam and Sidney Stoneman Acquisition Fund, a gift from Judson and Carol Bemis, Class of 1976, and gifts from the Lathrop Fellows, in honor of Brian Kennedy, Director of the Hood Museum of Art, 2005-2010
© 2010 Frank Stella/ Artists Rights Socety (ARS), New York. Photo by Steven Sloman.

     In December, I visited Hanover to see the Frank Stella exhibit at the Hood.  The exhibition, Irregular Polygons, is a fantastic display of minimalist painting, or 'hard edge painting' at its finest and yet this internationally known artist's works, in this series, also has a unique connection to New Hampshire.  
     First, a little background.  Stella was born in 1936, raised in Malden, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, and attended Phillips Academy in Andover.  During his summers he would vacation in New Hampshire, with his father, a wealthy gynocologist,  climbing Mount Chocorua, or fishing in a favorite stream just east of Conway.  
     Stella attended Princeton University, graduating in 1958, hitting the New York art scene like a rocket.  He befriended Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, married art critic and then Columbia University student, Barbara Rose, and within a year was one of several artists featured at the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition, Sixteen Americans.  This exhibition is thought to have launched the Minimalist movement and really signaled the final blow to the end of Abstract Expressionism.  Stella's first acclaimed pieces were his 'Black Paintings', which once sold for 75 dollars per painting and now garner around 5 million.
     After his 'Black Paintings', Stella started experimenting in a number of different directions that echoed some of the work Rauschenberg was doing with his combines, but it wasn't until he started his shaped canvases, large fields of color and play with illusion that he really hit his stride.  The Hood's, 'Irregular Polygons' exhibition really documents his thinking during this time period (1965-66) in a wonderfully curated show of the series, of which have never before been seen all together.
     For us Granite Staters, this show is unique in that all of the titles in this series are of New Hampshire locations.  Chocorua, Conway, Effingham, Moutonboro, Ossipee to name just a few.  It was his first of the series, Chocorua that inspired him to title the rest of the series after locations he visited while vacationing as a child here.  It was the upright triangle emerging from the square below that made him think of the mountain in Albany.  
     This show could not have come closer to home for me on many levels.  Having painted abstract/non-objective pieces for a number of years, I have always appreciated Stella's work.  This series as well as his Moby Dick series I feel are his best.  So to see the breadth of the Irregular Polygons series all together in one location is a special treat for me and any viewer.  But I also feel, having admired many of the locations cited in his titles, especially Mount Chocorua (we used to meet my grandparents at White Lake State Park, where when sitting on the beach, one can see Mount Chocorua across the lake, a beautiful sight), that this work strikes another nerve in me.  
Ellis, my son, sitting in front of one of Stella's Moby Dick paintings at the Metropolitan Museum in NY.
     Formally, I find the paintings play with spacial illusion.  Harkening to a time of Hans Hoffman's notions of push and pull in the way some of the paint's brilliance is juxtaposed with darker or less intense colors, making those high chroma shapes emerge off of the canvas.  I also find these paintings have an object-like quality about them, as they are not rectangular windows into which the viewer finds illusionistic space but that the space is created by the shaped object/painting itself.  Also lending to its object-like quality is the massiveness of the paintings themselves, with a depth that borders 4-6 inches and height and widths around 120 inches.   
     If you find yourself in the Hanover area or want to make a day trip, I highly recommend heading to the Hood.  The exhibition is up until March 13.  You will not be disappointed.  While you're there check out my favorite burrito place, Gusanos Taqueria (this is not a paid advertisement, I just like the place), directly behind the museum.  However do not order the habinero sauce with the description that says, 'barely edible' thinking like I did, 'yeah, yeah, I've heard that before', as you will find yourself drinking more than your bladder can hold and sweating profusely from the intense heat the sauce holds.  


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