Frank Stella: Early Traces

Frank Stella: Early Traces
December 13, 2015 – February 07, 2016

Frank Stella: Early Traces at Alden Projects™ (December 13, 2015 – February 07, 2016) is the first exhibition to focus on the ephemeral traces by, or of, Frank Stella, bringing together his artist-designed posters, exhibition invitations, and other rarely seen archival materials from 1960s. Proposing a parallel structure to the Frank Stella retrospective at the Whitney (also running through February 07, 2016), Alden Projects’ illuminates aspects of Stella’s early reception by unpacking previously neglected printed materials nearly all of which were freely distributed during the artist’s first decade of exhibiting.

In spite of the prior absence of critical attention to the artist’s archival record, the artist took a particular interest in creating exhibition posters during this early phase. While this exhibition re-materializes the mostly vanished art of Stella’s ephemera (published by the artist’s powerhouse galleries), it also brings back into registration the very particular web of the artist’s exhibition network where his work found its original reception: at Leo Castelli Gallery (New York); Galerie Lawrence (Paris); Ferus Gallery (Los Angeles); Kasmin Limited (London), Irving Blum (Los Angeles), and The Museum of Modern Art (New York), to name several. This focus on specific facts seems only fitting as the titles of a great deal of artist’s early paintings were attributed to particular places and to particular names (e.g. East Broadway, Telluride, Jasper’s Dilemma etc.). And it is also fitting that the arc of the artist’s reception retains its original indices of time and place. What is more, the connective tissue between the dramatis personae in the artist’s exhibition network is recovered in the organizational structure of this Alden Projects™ show.

One of Stella’s earliest exhibition posters—in fact, his second for Leo Castelli Gallery in 1962--is a masterpiece of artist’s ephemera: a die-cut, copper-colored folding re-enactment of the artist’s various shaped copper paintings. Folded once, it is a T-shape. Folded twice: L-shape. Fully unfolded, it is cruciform, and shaped and inked in the manner of the artist’s canvases, thereby mimicking the shape-shifting alphabet of the shaped aluminum canvases in the Castelli show. (The back, it should be noted, mirrors the front, but purely typographically). This example alone, this grail, pregnant with historical evocation, reveals the great interest Stella took in imaginative space and semantic possibilities of freely distributed exhibition posters.

There are other extraordinary printed materials from the Leo Castelli and Ferus Gallery publishing programs: several give form to Stella’s pointed interest in history and in architecture, with the artist’s first poster for Ferus Gallery in 1963 picturing Stella posed in New York as a modern variation of Da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man,” while the artist’s third poster for Leo Castelli (1964) mimics the folding format of an architectural blueprint---as if the invitation to an exhibition were creative evidence of a building in process. The latter poster elaborates the blueprint conceit by also printing on the verso an architect-client “sign-off” box containing the name of the client (Leo Castelli) and space for his initials (“LC”) of approval, explicitly analogizing the exhibition process with the codes and system of architectural planning.

This exhibition contains other documentation not designed by Stella, but pointedly reflecting the artist’s early engagement with ephemeral activities, including documentation of the artist’s participation in Robert Rauschenberg’s 1966 “Open Score” event at 9 Evenings: Theater & Engineering, organized by Robert Rauschenberg and Billy Klüver at the 25th Street Armory, New York in 1966. The event transformed the ancient performance of a tennis match---Stella played tennis with his regular partner--into a dance, and with the racquets rigged up by collaborating engineers to "to control the lights and to perform as an orchestra," making amplified sounds when the ball was hit, and causing the lights in the armory to switch off one by one towards darkness.  

Absent from Stella’s retrospective, but missing additionally from his catalogued record in general, this exhibition of Frank Stella’s ephemeral, early traces at Alden Projects aims to tell a story based on actual facts, particular people, and particular places from the artist’s first decade of exhibiting and performing. This is a story that is not told anywhere else.

© Todd Alden 2015