Frank Stella - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 13, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    M. Knoedler & Co., New York
    Christie's, New York, Contemporary Art, May 5, 1992, lot 45
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art, Sign & Gesture, Contemporary Abstract Art from The Haskell Collection, March 21 - June 13, 1999, later traveled to Jacksonville, Florida, The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens (June 23 - October 3, 1999), Tennessee, Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville (October 22, 1999 - February 13, 2000), Birmingham, Birmingham Museum of Art (March 5 - May 21, 2000)
    Dallas, The Meadows Museum of Art, Southern Methodist University, Bold Strokes Abstract Art from The Haskell Collection, September 16 - December 31, 2001
    Jacksonville, Florida, Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art, Image + Energy Selections from The Haskell Collection, September 24, 2004 – January 9, 2005
    Highlands, North Carolina, The Bascom, A Center for the Visual Arts, Frank Stella: American Master, July 8 - September 2, 2011
    Princeton, New Jersey, The Princeton University Art Museum, Rothko to Richter: Mark-Making in Abstract Painting from the Collection of Preston H. Haskell, May 2 - October 20, 2014, later traveled to
    Jacksonville, Florida, The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens (January 30 - April 22, 2015)

  • Literature

    J.B. Holmes, The Haskell Collection, The Haskell Company, Jacksonville, Florida, 1997, no. 55 (illustrated)
    Sign & Gesture, Contemporary Abstract Art from The Haskell Collection, exh. cat., The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, 2000, pp. 50-51 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “What you see is what you see, but the worthwhile qualities of painting are always going to be both visual and emotional, and it’s got to be a convincing emotional experience.” Frank Stella, 1970

    Frank Stella remains one of the most influential American artists of the post-war period. His work helped shape and define movements such as Minimalism, Color Field painting and Post-Painterly Abstraction. Heralded as a crucial innovator of Modernism, he is credited with both achieving the so-called last advancements in modernist painting and re-defining what the limits of modernist painting could be. The exuberant and methodical Double Scramble from the 1970s is an eloquent exemplar of his practice.

    Moving to New York in 1958, Stella was heavily influenced by the Abstract Expressionist movement prevalent at the time. Rejecting the expressive individuality of artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, he was drawn to the group of Abstract Expressionists who favored expansive fields of solid color over gestural brushstrokes. Artists such as Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, through their use of flat color, paved the way for a new kind of abstraction to be explored. The prominent critic Clement Greenberg was the first to notice this division amongst the Abstract Expressionists and went on to coin the term Post-Painterly Abstraction to describe this new style of painting. Later works by Color Field painters such as Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland would bring this abstraction to new frontiers with an increased sense of clarity, symmetry and simplicity. Stella took this initiative even further, completely stripping his paintings of all psychological meaning and subjectivity and reducing the canvas to an orderly language of color based on repetition and form.

    Double Scramble is an illustrative work that showcases the degree to which Frank Stella was able to push modernist painting to its extremes while still maintaining a degree of openness. Measuring over five feet tall by eleven feet wide, the canvas dominates and overwhelms the viewer, calling to mind the mural-sized works of Rothko. Known for producing paintings in cycles, this work is an elaboration on his earlier Concentric Squares series. It is comprised of two large, symmetrical squares positioned side-by-side, each containing a set of twelve progressively smaller concentric squares whose color scheme is opposite one another. The method is precise and systematic. On the left, the outermost square is painted in a rich red hue; on the right, this process is reversed, with the innermost square painted in the exact same tone. Moving from this point of departure, each of the alternate squares adheres to the subsequent order of the primary colors in the visible spectrum: orange, yellow, blue, and violet. Those squares in between each of the primary colored ones are painted in a mixture of red and white that, depending on which side of the canvas one is considering, are expressed as varying pink hues that get either progressively lighter or darker. This culminates in a brilliant white square, the most interior of which is on the left and the most exterior on the right. Each squared band is painted with an exacting precision that obfuscates the artist’s hand and removes any possible reading of subjectivity; they are divided by a thin, blank space, which underscores their sharp distinctiveness and crisp edges. The work is painted with acrylic and applied directly from the tube. Commonly used by house painters at the time, acrylic allowed for Stella to achieve a hard finish and authentic color, necessary for his project. The painting is entirely devoid of any meaning; it exists purely as a thing in-and-of itself.

    Stella’s insistence on formal purity can be seen in the ways in which Double Scramble expands upon the concepts put forth by its predecessors. The work of Robert Motherwell, for example, can be seen as a bridge between gestural abstraction and color field painting. His canvas The Little Spanish Prison painted between 1941-44 operates as a precursor to Stella’s work. Long strips of solid color vertically alternate in a pattern of silvery gray and bright yellow, interrupted only by a small magenta rectangle in the upper left-hand side. The repeated color pattern is akin to Stella’s own use of repetition. However, Motherwell intentionally individualizes each band of color by exposing his hand; the bands are irregularly shaped and imprecise. Furthermore, the painting is an allusion to the Spanish Civil War and therefore representational, as evinced by its title and underscored by its form. While adopting elements of Motherwell’s formal vocabulary, Stella was dismissive of Abstract Expressionism’s heroic aims and sought achieve an essential nature of visual abstraction free of any meaning outside of itself.

    Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland were two pioneers of Color Field painting and leading members of the Washington Color School who had a strong influence on Stella’s development. Predominately concerned with using color as a means of achieving pictorial flatness, they were successful in pushing painting away from Abstract Expressionism and in a new direction. Both Louis and Noland worked to eliminate the gesture of the brushstroke by pouring diluted paint directly onto unprimed canvas. Symmetry and formal repetition were central to their work. Unlike Stella, however, no individual work by either of the two artists sought to bring these concepts to their logical extremes. With its repetitive articulation of the canvas’s geometric proportions by means of symmetrically ordered system, Double Scramble displays Stella’s unwavering commitment to the notion of painting-as-object. In combining the theories of Color Field painting with those of Minimalism, the apogee of the picture as a “flat surface with paint on it – nothing more” is here achieved.

    In discussing his approach to solving the problems inherent in painting, Stella remarked, “There were two problems which had to be faced. One was spatial and the other methodological. In the first case I had to do something about relational painting, i.e. the balancing of the various parts of the painting with and against each other. The obvious answer was symmetry – make it the same all over. The question still remained, though, of how to do this in depth. A symmetrical image or configuration symmetrically placed on an open ground is not balanced out in the illusionistic space. The solution I arrived at, and there are probably quite a few, although I only know of one other, color density, forces illusionistic space out of the painting at constant intervals by using a regulated pattern. The remaining problem was simply to find a method of paint application which followed and complemented the design solution. This was done by using the house painters technique and tools.” (Frank Stella, in “The Pratt Lecture,” 1960, as quoted in Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art. Ed. Kristine Stiles/Peter Selz, London: Univeristy of California Press, 1996)

    When considered in its totality, Double Scramble, creates a dazzling effect that is visually mesmerizing. On the left side of the canvas, the painting draws the viewer down through a maze-like tunnel; on the right, the viewer is instead pushed away from the canvas, as it protrudes outward in a pyramidal fashion. With this, an opticality occurs. This unintended abstract illusionism is realized, however, precisely because of the painting’s orderly execution of absolute color and form. Thus, the schematic serialism that Stella uses to achieve the painting’s literalness paradoxically suggests an infinite pictorial space, one that is almost sculptural. In doing this, Stella successfully demarcates the limits of two-dimensional, flat space and then proceeds to go beyond them.

    The present lot represents a pivotal moment in both Stella’s artistic trajectory and the history of modern art. Through its use of luxuriant color, this monumental work initiated a move past the monochromatic austerity of his earlier canvases towards a more expressionistic aesthetic. In maintaining an unfaltering commitment to rigid order and reduced form, the painting embodies a straightforward coolness that calls direct attention to the flatness of the picture plane. Nevertheless, Double Scramble is imbued with an underlying spatiality and suggestion of abstract illusionism that would lay the groundwork for Stella’s later development into three-dimensional works. This inherent duality of the work speaks to Stella’s exceptional ability to communicate multiple meanings in a single image. With Double Scramble, Stella brought the modernist project to its logical limits, creating what Donald Judd called “the last advanced version[s] of painting,” and simultaneously introduced new possibilities of art making that continue to be explored today.

    “What the best art does is give us the best of both worlds – the perceptual and the pictorial. At the risk of sounding obtuse, I don’t mean this remark as a play of opposites, the perceptual versus the pictorial. I mean that the best art gives us the ability to see and hold together different images for the purpose of acting on or resolving them. That is, it gives us the ability to make complicated and/or multiple perceptions effectively pictorial.” (Frank Stella, 1991, from “Grimm’s Ecstasy")

  • Artist Biography

    Frank Stella

    American • 1936 - N/A

    Recognized as one of the most important postwar American artists, Frank Stella pioneered Minimalism with his monochrome “Black Paintings” of the late 1950s that marked a decisive departure from Abstract Expressionism. Concerned with the formal over representative elements of painting, Stella has developed a rich oeuvre reflecting his explorations on painting as an object through his investigations on color, shape, and composition. By the 1960s, Stella turned to bright colors and worked with shaped canvases that radically deemed form itself as content. After briefly experimenting with relief and collage, he ultimately turned to freestanding large-scale sculptures and architectural projects. Still working today in New York City, Stella remains the youngest artist to have had a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1970 and the first living artist to have had another the following decade in 1987.

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Double Scramble

acrylic on canvas
68 x 136 in. (172.7 x 345.4 cm)

$2,000,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for $2,165,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Stoffel
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1261

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Evening Sale 14 May 2015 7pm