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FRANK STELLA (b. 1936)

 
FRANK STELLA - The Musket - mixed media on aluminum - 74 1/2 x 77 1/2 x 33 in. FRANK STELLA - The Musket - mixed media on aluminum - 74 1/2 x 77 1/2 x 33 in. FRANK STELLA - The Musket - mixed media on aluminum - 74 1/2 x 77 1/2 x 33 in. FRANK STELLA - The Musket - mixed media on aluminum - 74 1/2 x 77 1/2 x 33 in. FRANK STELLA - The Musket - mixed media on aluminum - 74 1/2 x 77 1/2 x 33 in. FRANK STELLA - The Musket - mixed media on aluminum - 74 1/2 x 77 1/2 x 33 in. FRANK STELLA - The Musket - mixed media on aluminum - 74 1/2 x 77 1/2 x 33 in. FRANK STELLA - The Musket - mixed media on aluminum - 74 1/2 x 77 1/2 x 33 in. FRANK STELLA - The Musket - mixed media on aluminum - 74 1/2 x 77 1/2 x 33 in. FRANK STELLA - The Musket - mixed media on aluminum - 74 1/2 x 77 1/2 x 33 in.
The Musket199074 1/2 x 77 1/2 x 33 in.(189.23 x 196.85 x 83.82 cm) mixed media on aluminum
Provenance
Knoedler & Company, New York Private Collection
Armand Bartos Fine Art, New York
Private Collection, United States
Heather James Fine Art
Literature
R. Wallace, "Frank Stella's Moby Dick" University of Michigan Press, 1994, page 277, plate 158 (illustrated in color)
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“I don’t like to say I have given my life to art. I prefer to say art has given me my life.” – Frank Stella

History

Frank Stella’s four black enamel painted canvases of simple, deliberately arranged lines unveiled in December 1959 at Dorothy Miller’s 16 Americans exhibition turned the page on the excesses of the Abstract Expressionists and would shift the course of art history. Yet Stella would like to think his greatest impact is his compulsion to go for broke. For six decades and counting, he did just that. But place one of his exuberant, Baroque-inspired wall dependent sculptures from the 1980s or ‘90s next to a tautly painted canvas of that early time and it can be a vexing experience. Yet the trajectory of Frank Stella’s career is not so surprising when one considers his consistent refrain about reimagining materials in an interplay with surface values. When he found the confines of a rectangular canvas restrictive, he built frameworks to support irregular shapes then rebelled by building multi-tiered structures and painting them.

So perhaps the riotous exuberance of The Musket is not so far removed from those extraordinarily reductive paintings of that earlier time. Constructed and painted in 1990 and modeled on a computer, it is a construct of cut, trimmed, bent, and torqued honeycomb aluminum incised and painted in a wide range of fluorescent, metallic and acid colors that explode into low and medium relief.  Cubism and its tenets dominated twentieth-century art, but here Stella seems to have reached in a bag of confetti and tossed handfuls of it in the air in a sweeping gesture, celebrating freedom from that discipline. Its title is borrowed from chapter 123, one of two climactic scenes in Moby Dick that underscore Melville’s profound and intellectual commentary on human nature. The scene provides the pivotal moment when Starbuck realizes it may be his last chance to make the ultimate decision: save the ship and the crew’s lives by killing his mad captain or allow Ahab’s insanity to bring them to a watery death. The Pequod and its crew have passed the disastrous typhoon and have found smooth sailing and although the rest of the crew celebrate their good fortune despite the dark omens, as he enters Ahab’s cabin, in front of him is a rack of muskets, one of which had been pointed at him earlier. Yet he stands frozen in indecision. What will he do?

More
  • Stella_History1
    Frank Stella, New York, 1959
  • Stella_History2
    Frank Stella exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2015
  • Stella_History3
    Frank Stella at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 2015
“But, after all, the aim of art is to create space – space that is not compromised by decoration or illustration, space within which the subjects of painting can live.” -Frank Stella

Top Results at Auction

"Point of Pines" (1890), enamel on canvas, 85 x 110 in. Sold at Christie’s New York: 15 May 2019 for $28,082,500 USD
“Point of Pines” (1890), enamel on canvas, 85 x 110 in. Sold at Christie’s New York: 15 May 2019 for $28,082,500 USD
"Delaware Crossing" (1961), alkyd on canvas, 77 x 77 in. Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 04 November 2015 for $13,690,000 USD
“Delaware Crossing” (1961), alkyd on canvas, 77 x 77 in. Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 04 November 2015 for $13,690,000 USD
"Sharpeville" (1962), enamel on canvas, 85 x 110 in. Sold at Christie’s New York: 15 May 2019 for $28,082,500 USD
“Sharpeville” (1962), enamel on canvas, 85 x 110 in. Sold at Christie’s New York: 15 May 2019 for $28,082,500 USD
"Pratfall" (1974), acrylic on canvas, 130 x 130 in. Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 17 November 2016 for $8,900,000 USD
“Pratfall” (1974), acrylic on canvas, 130 x 130 in. Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 17 November 2016 for $8,900,000 USD
"Sight Gag" (1974), acrylic on canvas, 130 x 130 in. Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 14 November 2018 for $8,879,400 USD
“Sight Gag” (1974), acrylic on canvas, 130 x 130 in. Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 14 November 2018 for $8,879,400 USD
"Benjamin Moore Paintings" (Six Works), Hampton Roads, (1961), alkyd on canvas, 12 x 12 in. each, Sold at Christie’s New York: 06 October 2020 for $8,833,000 USD
“Benjamin Moore Paintings” (Six Works), Hampton Roads, (1961), alkyd on canvas, 12 x 12 in. each, Sold at Christie’s New York: 06 October 2020 for $8,833,000 USD

Comparable Works Sold at Auction

“Stubbs Kills a Whale” (1988), acrylic and enamel on aluminum, 113 x 103 x44 in. Sold at Christie’s New York: 03 March 2017 for $751,500 USD
“Stubbs Kills a Whale” (1988), acrylic and enamel on aluminum, 113 x 103 x44 in. Sold at Christie’s New York: 03 March 2017 for $751,500 USD
  • Similar wall relief from the same “Moby Dick” series
  • A larger example with less vibrant colors
  • Sold at auction in 2017, and since then, record-setting sales for Stella have elevated his market
“Norisring (XVI-3x)” (1983), mixed media on etched aluminum, 79.9 x 67.4 x 14.5 in. Sold at Christie’s London: 06 October 2016 for $613,535 USD
“Norisring (XVI-3x)” (1983), mixed media on etched aluminum, 79.9 x 67.4 x 14.5 in. Sold at Christie’s London: 06 October 2016 for $613,535 USD
  • Similar scale and wall-relief format
  • Comparable medium, though an earlier example from a different series
  • Sold at auction five years ago, and Stella’s market has grown
“La Prima Spada e l’Ultima Scopa” (1983), synthetic polymer paint on aluminum honeycomb panels and acrylic panel, 149.5 x 136.3 x 34 in. Sold at Phillips New York: 14 May 2015 for $725,000 USD
“La Prima Spada e l’Ultima Scopa” (1983), synthetic polymer paint on aluminum honeycomb panels and acrylic panel, 149.5 x 136.3 x 34 in. Sold at Phillips New York: 14 May 2015 for $725,000 USD
  • Wall relief with a comparable array of bright colors
  • Created in the early 1980s, when Stella began experimenting with the wall-sculpture format
  • Sold for $725,000 more than six years ago
“Interlagos VIII 3X” (1983), oil, oilstick, and lacquer on etched aluminum, 79.5 x 80 x 11.7 in. sold at Christie’s New York: 13 November 2013 for $701,000 USD
“Interlagos VIII 3X” (1983), oil, oilstick, and lacquer on etched aluminum, 79.5 x 80 x 11.7 in. sold at Christie’s New York: 13 November 2013 for $701,000 USD
  • Comparable scale, medium, and wall-relief format
  • Earlier example from a different series
  • Sold 8 years ago for over $700,000 USD, exemplifying the consistent performance of Stella sculptures at auction over time

Works in Museum Collections

"The Wheelbarrow" (B #3, 2X), (1988), Synthetic polymer paint and oil on cast aluminum, 108 x 110 in., Museum of Modern Art New York
“The Wheelbarrow” (B #3, 2X), (1988), Synthetic polymer paint and oil on cast aluminum, 108 x 110 in., Museum of Modern Art New York
"The Chase, Third Day" (1989), mixed media on etched magnesium and aluminum, 100 x 145 x 39 in., The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
“The Chase, Third Day” (1989), mixed media on etched magnesium and aluminum, 100 x 145 x 39 in., The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
"The Grand Armada" (1989), mixed media on aluminum, 124 x 73 x 39 in., Fondation Beyeler, Basel
“The Grand Armada” (1989), mixed media on aluminum, 124 x 73 x 39 in., Fondation Beyeler, Basel

Additional Resources

Explore the Frank Stella retrospective exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2015-2016, which featured comparable wall reliefs from the Moby Dick series.
The Stella retrospective traveled to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in 2016. Read their feature on the 5 “Moby Dick” pieces on display.
Learn about Stella’s unique series in this article from the Wall Street Journal, “The Wide, Wacky World of Frank Stella’s Titles” (2015)
Hear Frank Stella discuss his work and the landmark retrospective exhibition with Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth Chief Curator Michael Auping.

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