A Conversation with Frank Stella

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For Trillionaire Magazine’s Art Talk feature, Margulies Collection curator Katherine Hinds nabs a rare interview with the master of minimalism.

While not recognized as an art mecca per se — although we are known for Art Basel — Miami is home to five of The World’s Top 200 collectors, according to ARTnews Magazine. Among them is the renowned collector Martin Z. Margulies. Considered one of the best contemporary collections in the world by curators, critics, artists, and other collectors, the Margulies Collection focuses on seminal works by important artists from some of the major movements of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The Margulies Collection has been housed in Miami since the late 1970s, always with a portion of the collection open to the public. In 1999, the Margulies Collection at the WAREhOUSE opened in the Wynwood Arts District of Miami, where the public is invited to browse.

Katherine Hinds has been the curator of the Margulies Collection since 1982. She organizes the collection, annual exhibitions, educational programs, special collaborative exhibitions, and an international loan program. “When I first saw the collection in the early 1980s, I immediately recognized several works from my art history studies, including Creede I from Frank Stella’s Copper Series from 1961, which was a major moment in American minimalism.”

American abstract painter Frank Stella was recognized for his innovations before he was twenty-five. In 1970, he became the youngest artist ever to be honored with a retrospective at MoMA. The artist continues to live and work in New York. In early 2014, he held a solo exhibition featuring 14 recent works, primarily from the Scarlatti K Series at Peter Freeman, Inc. in New York City.

Stella’s work — donated by the Martin Z. Margulies Foundation — can be seen as part of the Margulies Collection in major art institutions in South Florida, including the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami, the New World Symphony on Miami Beach, and the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida in Gainesville. In addition, Stella’s work is included in the collections of NSU’s Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale and the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach.

For Trillionaire Magazine’s Art Talk feature, Katherine Hinds interviewed Stella. “It was a lively conversation on art, race car driving, Baroque music, and the artist’s recent foray into the new technology of 3-D printing as part of his art making process,” she says.

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KH: Let’s talk about your work that the Margulies Foundation donated to the New World Symphony building on Miami Beach, which was designed by Frank Gehry. The painting which is placed in the lobby has a sculptural quality. It protrudes ten feet from the wall and is made of stainless steel and aluminum tubing. It works so beautifully with the materials and shape of the building, itself.

FS: Yes, that work is from the Bali series — like the island. Originally, I was going to do that in bamboo, but it’s not practical — or at least I didn’t have the patience for it and bamboo turned out to be a lot more difficult a material than I thought. Anyway, it doesn’t bend very easily. But that work is part of the Bali series.

KH: Do you know Frank Gehry personally?

FS: Yes, I’ve known Frank Gehry since Los Angeles when we were both younger, as they say. I’ve known him for a long, long time, and I’ve always loved his work, and so it works out —we get along.

KH: Have you seen the work in the lobby there?

FS: I’ve only seen the picture — no, I haven’t gotten there yet.

KH: Well, I hope one day you see it; it just works so perfectly. We donated a work of yours from the Circuit Series from the 1980s to the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida. That series was inspired by your interest in the racing scene. Are you still involved in car racing?

FS: Well, I’m still a big fan, and I know Hurley Haywood who is a well known Florida driver. He’s a famous driver for Le Mans and long distance racing.

KH: You’re friendly with him?

FS: Yeah, I’m pretty friendly with Hurley. When things get tough in New York, I have to go to driving school — Hurley is my instructor. I went to driving school — actually, I was in Birmingham, Ala., driving just a few months ago at the Porsche school.

KH: Who are some of the younger, emerging artists that interest you today?

FS: Well, I know a couple of young guys from the Brooklyn scene. David Lukowski is one that I like, and another one is Dominic Nurre. And these kids — I mean they’re not kids, but they’re younger than I am. I’m probably in the submerging artists category myself now, but I also like a lot of the young artists from Brazil. I used to go down there a lot, and I like the artists Tunga, Nuno Ramos, Frida Baranek, and Ernesto Neto; I think he’s really good, too.

KH: Yes, we have a major work by Ernesto Neto that we’ve installed many times over the years at the Margulies Collection at the WAREhOUSE. We think he is a major artist.

FS: And I have a soft spot for women artists like Sarah Sze and Julie Mehretu, and I’ve known forever Judy Pfaff and Lynda Benglis. I like their work because there’s such a pressure on installation art, but women seem to be a little lighter and more transparent, and it’s more palatable anyway for me — more interesting.

KH: I want to ask you about your experiences in New York in the early years. Soon after graduating from Princeton in 1958, four works from your series The Black Paintings were exhibited at MoMA, which is considered a seminal moment in American Minimalism. Who were your close artist friends during those early years?

FS: Well, Carl Andre and Hollis Frampton. He’s a sculptor, and Hollis is a well-known photographer, who unfortunately died young. I was very friendly with Ellsworth Kelly, Jack Youngerman, and Larry Poons — and of course, Bob Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns and John Chamberlain. I saw a lot of John — I really liked him. And then there were a couple of older guys — Friedel Dzubas and then Barney Newman was friendly — he was nice for an old guy. That was a pretty good group of people.

KH: In 1984, you presented a series of lectures on Caravaggio and Rubens at Harvard. As a practicing artist today, which historical painters, sculptors, or architects are you thinking about?

FS: Well, one artist I think about is Antonio Allegri Correggio (Italian, born ca. 1490); he’s a little earlier than Caravaggio. With the new work I am working on — like the one from the Scarlatti K Series that the Margulies Collection just acquired — the artist I think a lot about is Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italian, born 1598). You can see the Baroque quality in the sculpture. And the other artist I think about all the time that doesn’t really seem relevant — but is relevant because it’s sort of the other side of the coin — is Helen Frankenthaler. I really think about Helen’s work a lot, and I guess it’s, in part, because I think it’s so original and what I wouldn’t be able to do, no matter how hard I tried. And it seems like the work is really difficult, but really powerful — so I think about it a lot.

KH: You brought up the Scarlatti K series, and I noticed that the medium you employ is to paint on acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, a type of polymer or plastic.

FS: Yes, it’s a plastic made using 3-D printing technology, essentially.

KH: The name of one of your new series is Scarlatti K — Scarlatti was an Italian Baroque musician — and earlier you mentioned you’re thinking about artists from the Baroque period. What is the reference for Scarlatti K?

FS: The K refers to Ralph Kirkpartrick. He was a Scarlatti scholar, but he was also a harpsichord player/performer. He’s the one who organized the Scarlatti sonatas as a scholarly project.

KH: That’s very interesting that you began your career as the artist who was the major force behind Minimalism — the aesthetic of “less is more” — and now at this point in your career, you are interested in the Baroque — the aesthetic of Maximalism. One can see the Baroque quality in the Scarlatti K series.

KH: If you could spend a day in the life of any person, who would that be?

FS: Oh, I don’t know. There was a French mathematician from the 18th century— his name was Gaspard Monge. What is interesting about him is his work with geometry and his ideas which influenced the architectural principles of plan and elevation. Monge brought out the idea of perspective and how you measured going back in space. I think a lot about Cubism and Modernism and the way that Cubism is really about plan and elevation. And it’s the geometry behind it which really holds it up. I like being able to make structures — building paintings in one way or another.

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