Frank Stella was born in 1936 in Malden, Massachusetts. He studied painting at the Phillips Academy in Andover and at Princeton University, graduating in 1958 with a degree in history. After his graduation, Stella moved to New York and completed his renowned series of Black Paintings. Regarded as a precursor to Minimalism, these paintings garnered immediate recognition: four were included in New York’s Museum of Modern Art’s “Sixteen Americans” exhibition in 1959, and Alfred Barr, the museum’s director, purchased one for the permanent collection shortly thereafter. In 1960, Stella’s Aluminum Paintings, his earliest shaped canvases, were exhibited in his first solo exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York. Stella continued to produce work in series, and in the 1960s he followed his Black and Aluminum canvases with his Copper Paintings, Concentric Squares, Mitered Mazes, Irregular Polygons, and Protractor Paintings. This time was also punctuated by his introduction into printmaking in the mid-‘60s, and his designs in 1967 for the set and costumes for Scramble, a dance performance choreographed by Merce Cunningham.
In the 1970s, while finishing work on his Protractor and Saskatchewan series, Stella increasingly moved towards three-dimensionality seen in the high relief of his Polish Village series, named for the 17th-19th century wooden synagogues destroyed in Poland by the Nazis. In 1970, at the age of 34, Stella became the youngest artist to receive a full-scale retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Stella continued his prolific pace throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, bringing forth such series as the Brazilian, the Exotic Bird, the Indian Bird works, Circuits, Shards, and Cones and Pillars. With these works, Stella expanded on new direction towards the three-dimensional with new technologies. With the Brazilian series, he painted on etched metallic sheets in fan-like shapes, and with the Exotic Bird series, he combined honeycomb aluminum with worked ground glass surfaces.
In 1985, Stella began work on the The Wave series, which in 1988 became known as the Moby Dick series: a set of 266 painted metal reliefs, collages, sculpture, prints and a block long mural. The series consists of at least one unique work for each of the 138 chapters of Herman Melville’s novel. In 1987, Stella was given an unprecedented second retrospective exhibition for a living artist at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In the 1990s, Stella began work on his Imaginary Places series and started the Heinrich von Kleist series. One of his largest outdoor sculptures, completed and installed in 2001, is Washington D.C.’s National Gallery of Art’s “Prince Frederick of Homburg,” which takes its title from one of Kleist’s dramas. In his more recent work, in the painted sand cast metal pieces of the Near East series and the twisted steel constructions of the Bamboo series and the Scarlatti K series, Stella continues to work freely in three dimensions. Stella is the author of many essays and articles exploring painting and abstract art in particular. In 1983 he was named the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University. In 1986 those lectures, titled “Working Space”, were published in English, French and Japanese.
Stella is the recipient of many honors and awards. He won first prize in Tokyo’s International Biennial Exhibition of Paintings in 1967, and in 1979 he received the Claude M. Fuess Distinguished Service Award from Phillips Academy. He was the recipient of both the Skowhegan Award for Painting and the Mayor’s Award for Arts and Culture in 1981. In 1985 he received the Award of American Art from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He has received honorary degrees from Princeton University, Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem, Dartmouth College and the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany. In 1989 he received the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French government. In 1992 he was awarded the Barnard Medal of Distinction. He was presented with the Gold Medal for Graphic Art award by the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1998. In 2000 he became the only American artist to have been given a solo show at London’s Royal Academy, of which he is a member. He was presented with the Gold Medal for Graphic Art award by the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1998. Stella won the Gold Medal of the National Arts Club in New York in 2001. In 2009 Stella was the recipient of the Julio Gonzalez Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Arts in Valencia, Spain and in the same year was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Obama.
Stella’s work can be found in almost every major museum around the world, including the Menil Collection, Houston; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.. In 2016, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art, Fort Worth organized a comprehensive retrospective of Stella’s work.
Frank Stella lives and works in New York City.