The Daily Racing Form

 Steve Dalachinsky
January 2016

stella525Stella in Studio, 1985, Nuvo Magazine

(Frank Stella in conversation with Adam Weinberg at the new Whitney Museum / the Annual Walter Annenberg  lecture)

Frank Stella, who turns 80 next year, seems in fine form and wears a beaming smile as he walks up to the black board and picks up a piece of chalk. He then admits that this might be more of a solo performance than a dialogue as he scrawls the phrase DAILY RACING FORM on the board stating “…the sponsor of this lecture should be the daily racing form since that’s Annenberg’s only contribution to the arts. We think we know what art is,” he continues, “but it’s not like a racetrack that ends at the finish line. In art some often get there and the one who does get there…well you know who is good it’s not just a matter of opinion.”  And so the talk begins. A remark over everyone’s head perhaps or just an awkward moment of silence from the packed audience, in of all places, the lobby of the new Whitney, since it seems, one oversight by the architect was not providing a proper auditorium. oh there is that room on the third floor for performances and such but even that for the most part is not really an adequate space for live events. Stella is missing one finger on his left hand and another seems distended out of proportion oddly elongated > his early work, those hard edge shaped canvases and broad “minimalist” color bands, has inspired me since i was a kid though his later monstrously ugly cut metal pieces are, were, still remain and always will be, just that, ugly and monstrous, though, i must add, very literary. Right Moby?

Stella’s conversation with Weinberg was in conjunction with his Whitney retrospective up through January 2016, a fairly comprehensive look at the artist’s work in no particular chronology since chronology, as Stella pointed out is inconsequential in regard to the history of the work. The show, however, does not include his unrealized architectural designs, which, though similar to his late work, have a life of their own. When I first viewed them I really fell for them. Stella spoke eloquently in his streetwise voice about the evolution or lack of in his work. Always the free spirit he never cow-towed to the whims of the art scene. If they wanted one thing he gave them something else. He always defied convention moving toward new horizons and eventualities whether one liked what they got or got what he did. I snuck into the talk without a problem even though I was on the list and found a seat in the second row real up close and personal. I felt obliged to let the Whitney folks know I snuck in so after securing the seat and taking a wiz I promptly admitted my crime, something I rarely do, so that the press folks would know that i actually did show up.

digression: i love the fact that most new men’s rooms, the Whitney’s included, have at least one child-friendly urinal, which of course, includes short grownups as well, of which i’m one.

After formerly introducing Stella, Weinberg stated that the Whitney owns over 75 works by him in their permanent collection started in 1955 and that it was only fitting to have the first Annenberg lecture at the new location with Stella as well as having this retrospective. From here on in I will be doing a chop-it / cutup / collage of that conversation taking a few liberties with the actual talk injecting my voice at times. The words alternate between Stella and Weinberg in no particular voice except where a (W) is indicted. The sequence of the conversation is pretty much intact from starting gate to finish line. So hold on to you’re reins and may the best horse win:

 energy tenacity of a high school wrestler   you were  endurance with complete fearlessness  1000’s of works narrowed down to 100 or so for this show  which will travel to texas and san francisco    you have gone thru many different  (forgot word)  as if you were 5 different artists    how about 5 artists in one head   rewritten the rules  discarded them and rewritten them again and again  (agitator) 2 completely contradictory thoughts in one mind   and executing them as well  a system of improvisation unorthodox  at addison  maude morgan teacher took students to andover gallery where they were constantly exposed to work – in 1954 as a student i experienced the work of arthur dove > etc. in that gallery and in the homes of the teachers who taught there >  when you are in school you only know about the school you are in > the school supplied the paint  it was like going to a lab > sometimes we saw reproductions then we went upstairs and painted > didn’t completely anticipate being a painter but liked what i was doing with my hands   still lifes were a requirement (Seurat) system    repetition (W) reflex  a way of feeling about the whole  touch  > seurat impressionism  overall touch moving paint across the painting the teacher (maude) bought my first abstract painting in 1956 for $35. her face dropped when i told her to pay up > had a goal in college didn’t want to paint figures or still lifes  saw de stael that was a big change  paint (indecipherable) to be like blocks    training    responding to materials   not seascapes    (?)  Hoffman 1947  albers 1940   amazing show stella’s hard edge side then later EXALTMENT  – addison collection  hoffman   –  albers  Bent Black    15 – 16 years old  didn’t know at the time these folks were advanced  >  simply available ideas and how you reacted to them   – it’s what education is about  i think >  at princeton there was stephen greene and seitz –  princeton mostly into 18th and 19th   art  –  andover was better than the whitney  tho they could be equal  princeton a brutally conservative place where art history was more important than art   thesis on art history     greene brought me to ny  met jasper johns in 1957   /   in teacher’s room – invited  studio  art  – boxer joe brown sculpture   and seitz opened up   . the life of an artist was not glamorous but most important it was a way to support oneself  easier to do that than to teach in a university those days     >     de stael  landscape vancluse (1953)  Hoffman took students to see de stael’s work  > stella 1958   perfect day for bananafish  – used house paint > thinner but cheaper > great jones st — 1958 based painting on johns’ green target not the flag painting   that painting moved everyone at the time  > green was not a big seller in abstract painting > dealers would say  forget green  >   target painting of johns  more painterly  > horizontal landscapes  abstraction comes from the north from landscape painting >>>   b. newman fall of ‘58 or ’59   >  french and company  greenberg advisor >  with studio paintings you could get credits but not grades  > i suppose they didn’t want folks to get a leg up > chance vs work and focus > andover wow > princeton thumbs down > neuman show made sense but at the same time seemed obvious yet different from what others were doing  unlike anyone else they were not a fluid  touch   … on other side of painterly touch  >   brown and blue off colors that work well> he tried to separate himself  — didn’t want to be a mondrian or hard edge  he thought he was higher than that  >  how people work style defined by equilibrium > how things go together > filling in the space > not over all but making it work >  (filling in)  hard  black paintings > influenced by Pollock by the industrial strength paint  – THE MATERIALS  –   unsized canvases  –   covered over and built up  lead painting  but they are never predictable    > tried to organize early paintings – so it wouldn’t be made any worse than it was in the can  — judd’s are being remade so the level of fabrication has been improved  – with aluminum paint the manufacturers change their formulas  therefore the  paint changes  – looking for no colors less interesting than black > went to andover with carl andre  > i lived with him > did you have conversations?  with andre you don’t talk to him you listen to him >  Ophr (‘60-‘61) > most shaped canvases become objects not paintings  and that was it >  there are 135 moby dicks  one for each chapter  > it’s a series  > what’s the point of your question ?  >  finish it   make it work   process  — where am i going with this? > why am i doing this ? where do i go next?  >   do you know the answer?  NO… i’m doing it to finish it  >>> whistler crepuscule  ,,,  flesh colors   green  — valparaiso  stella  flesh colors and green    >   is there such a thing as NON-CONCEPTUAL art?  > like that guy said about the other guy  “it’s typing not writing” > or is it conceptual art with a big C?  >  then i was interested in how the others were painting  detergent  fabric spray > now i’m more interested in what i’m doing myself  >  (his process)   use of materials  > motion equated with vitality >   (needed a pictorial vitality)  –  nada muerte  / weird shaping  > loomings  wave  shape > changes one’s thinking forced to think ahead >  didn’t like first direction   / (W) they’ve come around …  well i’m not sure they’ve come around to my early work yet  (W) well it sells well…  damascus gate 1976  50 ft long  >   the engine that made the whole thing work  laid it all out  >   – very nice museum  as they say but a daunting and large space > center piece  idea of a grand gallery but a medley  very traditional fashion but what is an untraditional space except the DESERT?  piece looks like a boat going somewhere  (W) did  you see the entire exhibition as an entire work of art?  >  i wanted a feeling of a circuit   travelling around  easy to cut across go back > seeing something ahead may have wanted you to turn back to where you came from > chronology is not as important as visual response > (indecipherable) ROOM  – l. lisitsky  –  gericault   –  raft of the medusa    stella  – raft of the medusa 1 (painterly not sculptural) –  did that because i was trying to get away from moby dick >  watson and Sh(indecipherable)   medusa   a wave image  WAVE image  get away and find a physical painterliness — (W) i used to think it (medusa) was the ugliest piece when i first saw it but now my opinion has changed… to me it’s beautiful in a very ugly way  (like monks’ ugly beauty i think)   > the process of working determines the outcome  > one never sees the end results of the foundry > for me recycling is part of the process >   circus of pure feeling > 4 sq. circus rather than a 3 ring circus  /  calder’s circus   >  always abstract art but an issue with Malevich not about purity of form but idea of feeling   (abstraction   some say there’s nothing there)  now i’m into 3D printing  – one has to do what the body and mind give you  – body and hand can’t climb the ladder anymore  > with help 4 hands working pretty quickly compensates for my inability to move around much  – the portrait is  blank  is  empty  – i couldn’t bare someone saying he’s now using the STAR motif >  are they paintings? no they’re not > ME  – they are stars  > questions from audience  technical process  / earthquake in chile  > paintings  / collage cut out and rearranged   LARGE COLLAGE > folks who work on it are more traditional than i am  — shadow showing you depth  > again i notice that part of his thumb is missing  –  his middle finger is distended bent at the tip destroyed  – chronology is over here and now –  abstact painting you see activity it’s up to your imagination to let it GO > personages > the way geometry is composed  close to portraits  –  (ARABESQUES) –  diagrams   titles   notations   a place where i can find them   > 1×3’s stretchers standard size   easy way to build a strainer > surface of painting more available > i don’t remember what i had for breakfast (when asked about a process he used on a painting series from the ‘60s) > i don’t know how you remember what you did 50 yrs ago > over and over   it’s the art critics some are from another planet >   were you influenced by elizabeth murray or vice versa? i read a lot of interiews with her but never really met her she said she was influenced by cezanne that’s what i know – it’s a shame she died so young > why didn’t you pursue the white drawings  (moby dick)  – i don’t know maybe i missed it >  paintings have base or support all painted separately – layers obscure painting parts of – wasn’t worried about back of painting    if you can’t see it why do i have to paint it   in a 1970 interview you said that painting was one of…. done for philip Johnson (my notes here incomplete)… it wasn’t a good painting but might have been a good stained glass window.


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