Frank Stella - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, November 17, 2021 | Phillips

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    "The concentric square format is about as neutral and as simple as you can get. It's just a powerful pictorial image. It's so good that you can use it, abuse it, and even work against it to the point of ignoring it. It has a strength that's almost indestructible."
    —Frank Stella


    Offering dueling matrices of scintillating color on an exceptionally large scale, Frank Stella’s Double Concentric Square is a mesmeric iteration of the artist’s relentless investigation on the power of formalism. Immersing the viewer into pulsating striations radiating with chromatic vibrance, this mature exemplar captures Stella’s continued exploration with the symbol of the square that played a pivotal role in the development of his practice. Here, the artist presents a manifestation of his longstanding interest in the relationship between color, form, and perception, as the saturated bands reverberate with illusionistic depth that belies their austere flatness.




    Helen Frankenthaler, Mauve District, 1966. Museum of Modern Art, New York, Image: © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Helen Frankenthaler / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Helen Frankenthaler, Mauve District, 1966. Museum of Modern Art, New York, Image: © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York



    Following the success of his early Black Paintings in the late 1950s, in 1962, Stella turned his attention to a subject that would prove to be an essential touchstone for the rest of his career: the square. Despite the form’s seeming directness, Stella found infinite visual possibilities in its prismatic clarity, repeatedly rendering new permutations of concentric squares each unique by their varying colored bands. Despite a hiatus from his Concentric Squares, Stella’s triumphant return to the series in the mid-1970s reflected the square form as the foundation of his ultimate investigations between the two-dimensional picture plane and its three-dimensional support. As William Rubin observed, “The Concentric Squares could be said to have been already used by Stella for over a decade as a kind of standard, or a qualitative ‘scale,’ by which to measure the necessity of using more complicated shapes, configurations, or color arrangements.”i


    The arresting simplicity of Stella’s Concentric Squares betrays the artist’s deeply intellectual and systematic approach to their creation. Planning each composition in advance with meticulous detail, Stella would plot the form on graph paper, testing variable color combinations to determine the chromatic scheme. Taking paint directly from the tube, he would then painstakingly transpose the image onto canvas with monastic focus and precision, ensuring the crisp symmetry and linear regularity of the composition as well as the faintly feathered edges between the various layers of the colored bands that altogether suggest the hypnotic optical vibrations exuding from the canvas.



    "The Concentric Squares created a pretty high, pretty tough pictorial standard. Their simple, rather humbling effect—almost a numbing power—became a sort of “control” against which my increasing tendency in the seventies to be extravagant could be measured.”
    —Frank Stella



    As exemplified by the present work, Stella’s Concentric Squares of the 1970s was notably marked by their significantly larger scale, thinner strips of unpainted canvas between the colored bands, and reinvigorated palette of more complex color combinations. In Double Concentric Square, Stella alternates the rich palette between bands of mauve, lilac, plum, and violet, interspersing contrasting primary colors between them as the matrix recedes into the center. The Janus-faced nature of the work juxtaposes the simultaneous formal cohesion and discordant color combinations of the two sides with each other, creating a dynamic tension within the painting that oscillates between the left and right halves, foreground and background, two-and three-dimensions, before the viewer’s eyes.




    Josef Albers, Red, Violet around Orange, Pink, 1948. Josef & Anni Albers Foundation, Artwork: © 2021 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Josef Albers, Red, Violet around Orange, Pink, 1948. Josef & Anni Albers Foundation, Artwork: © 2021 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York



    "Frank Stella is not interested in expression or sensitivity. He is interested in the necessities of painting."
    —Carl Andre



    Stella’s engagement with ostensibly straightforward geometries is among the most radical of his peers. Whereas Malevich strove for absolute form by situating shapes in infinite voids, and Albers sought to establish a taxonomy of chromatic harmony, Stella concerns himself only with the fundamentals of painting: color, line, and balance. As the present work powerfully manifests, this enduring exploration and the elemental simplicity of his endeavor have cemented his status as one of the most stalwart and innovative artists of the 20th century. Famously remarking on his work in an interview with Donald Judd and Bruce Glaser, Stella explained in his characteristic laconic wit, “My painting is based on the fact that only what can be seen there is there...All I want anyone to get out of my paintings, and all I ever get out of them, is the fact that you can see the whole idea without any confusion...What you see is what you see.”ii



    Cut from the Archives




    i William Rubin, Frank Stella, 1970-1987, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1987, p. 43.

    ii Frank Stella, quoted in Bruce Glaser, “Questions to Stella and Judd,” ARTnews, September 1966, online.

    • Provenance

      Private Collection, Tokyo
      Sotheby’s, New York, October 31, 1984, lot 63
      Camille and Paul Oliver-Hoffmann, Chicago (acquired at the above sale)
      Sotheby’s, New York, November 19, 1997, lot 61
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Yares Art, Larry Poons / Frank Stella: As It Was, As It Is, March 20 – September 10, 2021

    • 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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Property of an American Collector

Ο ◆31

Double Concentric Square

signed and dated "F. Stella 78" on the overlap
acrylic on canvas
81 x 161 in. (205.7 x 408.9 cm)
Painted in 1978.

Full Cataloguing

$1,500,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for $1,845,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
New York Head of Department & Head of Auctions
+1 212 940 1278
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 November 2021