Frank Stella - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Thursday, June 24, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Indexing a career-defining transition in Frank Stella’s oeuvre from three decades of Minimalist paintings and prints to the three-dimensional, self-described “maximalist” works he continues to develop today, Corpo-senza-l'anima (3.8x), 1987, was among the first works by the artist to coalesce geometric and gestural abstraction. The work, a superb example from his 12-part series Pillars and Cones, marks a shift to the distinctive visual idiom that has come to define the second half of Stella’s career. This pivotal chapter, which was of central importance to Stella’s second retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1987, represents not only a major breakthrough in Stella’s practice, but a highly-acclaimed development in post-war abstraction that has been widely recognized by collectors, scholars, and institutions worldwide.
    "Space to grow with and expand into, pictorial space that encourages unlimited orientation and extension. Painting does not want to be confined by boundaries of edge and surface."
    —Frank Stella


    Where Painting Meets Sculpture


    For his groundbreaking Pillars and Cones series, including Corpo-senza-l'anima, Stella’s method involved first constructing the underlying multiplanar structure of a painting using a variety of materials ranging from aluminum to canvas. After conceiving the form, he applied paint, adding color and illusionistic elements to the work which heightened the composition's sense of depth. These works, which embodied a hybrid identity of both painting and sculpture, garnered widespread attention when they were unveiled in the mid-1980s. “[The Pillars and Cones series] introduce forms that stand for a free-flying aggressive energy, together with a general disposition to be against flatness, consistency and homogeneity, and in favor of multiplicity—whether of mark, of medium or of overall shape,” The New York Times critic John Russell espoused. “The new work lives in tumult, but that tumult makes perfect and unprecedented sense. It is, in fact, the work not of a cloistered sage, but of a highly intelligent highwayman. And—make no mistake—you will not forget the moment when it looks straight at you and says, 'Hands up!'"i


    Stella in his studio at work on a piece from the Cones and Pillars series.
    Stella in his studio at work on a piece from the Pillars and Cones series. Photographed by Sanjiro Minamikawa, Artwork © 2021 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Stella drew inspiration for the Pillars and Cones series from a variety of sources ranging from architectural theory to folklore. Indeed, even the title of the series carries multiple layers of meaning, the most straightforward referring to the shapes that comprise the works, another paying homage to the signature forms of Paul Cézanne and Cubism. His decision to employ pillars and cones in his composition was in part inspired by drawings included in the French architect Louis Monduit’s treatise on stereotomy, or the practice of cutting and assembling stone. Stella’s engagement with architecture is further demonstrated through his preoccupation with the relationship between the pictorial space of the work of art and the literal space of the wall on which it is installed. In Corpo-senza-l’anima, the interplay between wall and object is interrogated by the sprawling shapes that fly off the square painted canvas, thus blurring the boundary between the supposed interiority of painting and the external world.


    A Sorcerer and a Princess

    The titles of the individual works from Pillars and Cones are borrowed from those of old Italian folktales compiled by the writer Italo Calvino, who Stella first met in 1984. Corpo-senza-l’anima, which translates in English to “body without a soul,” is the title of a fairytale that recounts a young hero who is on a mission to save a princess that was kidnapped by a monstrous sorcerer, an evil creature who has hidden his soul in an egg in exchange for immortality. On his way to find the princess, the young hero stops to help a group of animals who admire his fairness and charitability, therefore granting him the power to shapeshift into an ant, eagle, lion, and dog. This new power, as well as his own determination and guile, allows the young hero to locate the princess—who then tricks the sorcerer into revealing where he had stashed his soul. After completing a sequence of tasks thanks to his new shape-shifting abilities, the young hero finds the black egg that concealed the soul and cracks it over the head of the sorcerer, thus defeating the creature and saving the princess.

    "[The Pillars and Cones] have very much the spirit of the well-told folktale. They are very active, they're very fantasy-like, and they're very simple—even brutal—in the way that fairy tales are...I had the feeling that with a little bit of mental jockeying their forms could represent things. It wasn't hard to imagine them being a cat
    or a person."
    —Frank Stella 
    While Stella found inspiration in literature for Pillars and Cones and the later Moby Dick series, he did not create works that were merely illustrative. Rather, Stella explored the potential for shapes and abstract forms to be assembled in such a way that leaves the viewer with a feeling that is aligned with that left by their namesake rather than acting as mere supplements to the text. “These story titles were chosen after [the reliefs were composed] but they were picked ‘for a certain appropriateness,’ and in some cases because they seemed to echo a narrative implication that Stella felt in the picture.” The artist elucidated, "The Cones and Pillars have a blunt, primitive quality to them as paintings.”ii Just as Calvino’s folktales assemble words and sentences to produce stories that are simple and direct, Stella used the most basic, paired down shapes to create a final work that is remarkably straightforward yet impactful.


    From Geometry to Gesture


    From Minimalist painting and printmaking to monumental sculptures created with cutting-edge digital technologies, Stella has ceaselessly evolved his artistic practice to produce a highly original and dynamic body of work. In the late 1950s, Stella moved to New York and joined a generation of artists who both inherited and reacted to Abstract Expressionism and shared an interest in creating paintings that embraced the ideology that “what you see is what you see.”iii In the 1960s and ‘70s, Stella created paintings and prints such as Hyena Stomp, 1962, Tate, London, that were defined by their flatness, geometric qualities, symmetry, and repetition. On the other hand, late works, such as the monumental sculpture kandampat, 2002, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, seem explosive and expressive compared to the artist's orderly early paintings.


    Frank Stella, Hypena Stomp, 1962, Tate, London.
    Frank Stella, Hypena Stomp, 1962, Tate, London. Artwork © 2021 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Corpo-senza-l'anima and other works from the Pillars and Cones series act as a unique link between Stella’s early and late practice, pushing his visual lexicon into the third dimension. Employing the geometric and compositional knowledge that he mastered during his Minimalist period, in the Pillars and Cones series Stella experimented with radical new materials, scale, and space that would become critical to his later practice. The series demonstrates that Stella’s early and late work do not stand in opposition to one another, but rather, like the progression from the Classical to the Baroque, the changes are constituted by development rather than disjuncture.


    i John Russell, "The Power of Frank Stella," The New York Times, February 1, 1985, p. 68.
    ii William Rubin, Frank Stella: 1970-1987, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1987, p. 142.
    iii Roberta Smith, “Tracking Frank Stella’s Restless Migrations (From Painting and Beyond),” The New York Times, October 29, 2015, p. C 23.

    • Provenance

      M. Knoedler & Co., New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Taura, Akira Ikeda Gallery, Frank Stella, November 8, 1988–April 30, 1989, no. 12, n.p. (illustrated)
      Sakura, Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art (April 27–June 16, 1991); Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, Frank Stella 1958-1990 (October 19–December 1, 1991), no. 21, pp. 106, 131 (illustrated, p. 107)
      Osaka, The National Museum of Art, Frank Stella: Painting and Relief, July 6–August 6, 1991, n.p. (illustrated)

    • Artist Biography

      Frank Stella

      American • 1936 - N/A

      One of the most important living artists, Frank Stella is recognized as the most significant painter that transitioned from Abstract Expressionism to Minimalism. He believes that the painting should be the central object of interest rather than represenative of some subject outside of the work. Stella experimented with relief and created sculptural pieces with prominent properties of collage included. Rejecting the normalities of Minimalism, the artist transformed his style in a way that inspired those who had lost hope for the practice. Stella lives in Malden, Massachusetts and is based in New York and Rock Tavern, New York.

      View More Works


Corpo-senza-l'anima (3.8x)

oil, urethane enamel, fluorescent alkyd, acrylic and printing ink on canvas, etched magnesium, aluminum and fiberglass, in 5 parts
overall 157 x 127 x 13 in. (398.8 x 322.6 x 33 cm)
Executed in 1985.

Full Cataloguing

$500,000 - 700,000 

Sold for $567,000

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 24 June 2021