SAN FRANCISCO, CA, February 6, 2002—The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) announced today that it has received six major paintings by Frank Stella from Mr. and Mrs. Harry W. Anderson. The pieces, spanning Stella’s four-decade career, firmly establish SFMOMA as a leading repository of this important artist’s work. The group of six paintings follows the Andersons’ gift to SFMOMA in December 2001 of a significant early Stella work Zambezi, 1959.
Polk City, 1963, will go on view next week in the Museum’s permanent collection galleries, facing Zambezi. Additionally, the Andersons and SFMOMA have agreed to a collection-sharing program for these monumental works, whereby they will remain on public view at the Quadrus office complex in Menlo Park, California (formerly headquarters of Mr. Anderson’s Saga Corporation and now owned and managed by the Kaiser Family Foundation).
Elaine McKeon, chair of the SFMOMA Board of Trustees, comments, “We continue to be astounded and delighted by the Andersons’ tremendous generosity toward this Museum and the Bay Area community. This important group of Stella masterworks continues the Andersons’ remarkable 30-year tradition of generous and deliberate gifting of major postwar works to SFMOMA. We are fortunate, indeed, to have in our community collectors with their commitment to ensuring public access to modern masterpieces.”
Describing how these new works shape SFMOMA’s permanent collection, Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture Madeleine Grynzstejn explains, “SFMOMA now has a substantial track record of collecting the works of significant artists in depth. The addition of seven Stella masterworks from the Andersons effectively doubles our holdings and follows the acquisition in recent years of multiple key works by Robert Rauschenberg and Ellsworth Kelly. Taken together, they establish SFMOMA as a vital destination for the study of postwar American art.”
Each of the six works given to SFMOMA represents an important stage of Frank Stella’s long and ever-evolving output, from the monochrome explorations that followed his now-famous Black Paintings (exemplified by Zambezi) to the explosive and colorful three-dimensional relief paintings of the late 1980s. The trajectory of Stella’s work encompasses the groundbreaking and the dramatic, varying greatly as the artist explored the questions raised by both abstraction and minimalism.
Six Major Works
From the outset, Stella’s artistic achievements have been organized in clearly defined series of works. The earliest work in this group of six, Polk City, 1963, is an excellent example of the monochromatic, shaped canvases of the Dartmouth series (1963–64) that emerged from the Black Paintings (1959–60). One of Stella’s earliest shaped canvases, Polk City features two striped chevrons joined at such an angle as to blur the boundaries of their independent geometries. It is a significant work for SFMOMA’s collection, both in its direct relationship to the chevron-inspired striping of Zambezi and as prelude to Stella’s Running V paintings, represented in the SFMOMA collection by Adelante, 1964.
Stella followed the monochromatic, striped and angular works of these early series with a group known as the Protractor paintings (1967–71). This series of 93 works exhaustively explored circles and curves borrowed from the common geometry tool for which they are named. As wonderfully demonstrated in Firuzabad, 1970, Stella also expanded the scale of his work to truly architectural proportions: Firuzabad measures 10 by 15 feet. Featuring two interlocking circles, the painting is a stunning companion to the half-circle forms found in Khurasan Gate (Variation) I, 1969, already in the SFMOMA collection.
Stella’s Polish Village paintings of the early 1970s marked a transition toward a new pictorial language in which the artist began to blur the historically sacrosanct boundary dividing painting and sculpture. These explorations in three dimensions also introduced the use of collage; Lipsko III, 1972, with its combination of felt, fabric and acrylic on cardboard, exemplifies this important phase of Stella’s artistic development.
By the time Stella’s Exotic Birds series took flight in the late 1970s, the artist was fully immersed in what is now widely considered his “second” career of works in three dimensions. Shoubeegi, 1978, represents all of the elements now present in Stella’s works. The “ground” of traditional painting has become a three-dimensional grid on which brightly colored and freely gestured forms are at once floating and painstakingly composed. These forms include the signature French curves borrowed from traditional engineering tools, further illustrating Stella’s interest in the relationship between art and architecture, abstraction and representation.
With Guifà, la luna, i ladri e le guardie, 4x, 1984, an early example of Stella’s Cones and Pillars series, the artist added a clear sense of movement through space to his giant reliefs, using the oblique lines of cone shapes to their full visual advantage. This series also introduced a new style of painterly execution for Stella: precise, crisply simplified perspectival striping on the cone and pillar shapes contrasts vividly with the distinctive gestural coloration that adorns the abstract forms throughout the work.
The Quadrant, 1987–88, part of Stella’s Wave series, takes the artist’s exploration of contrasts still further, introducing undulating sheets or “waves” of striped metal layered with stark right angles of “frame” fragments in both the foreground and background of the composition.
Bay Area residents Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson began to collect art seriously soon after they moved to California in the mid-1960s and quickly created one of the first collections of national significance in Northern California. They initially chose to focus on modern art and subsequently developed a carefully considered plan to collect works from the New York School, including this important group of works by Stella. For more than 25 years, the Andersons have been important friends and patrons of SFMOMA. In 1972 they gave the Museum two major contemporary American paintings: Jasper Johns’s Land’s End, 1963, and Robert Rauschenberg’s Collection, 1953–54. This gift was followed by the donation of an important Clyfford Still painting in 1974 and a significant work by California artist David Park in 1976. In 1992 the Andersons gave the Museum a core group of American Pop works by Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana and James Rosenquist, which have been on view in the Museum’s new building since its opening in 1995. The couple donated Roy Lichtenstein’s Mirror I, 1977, to SFMOMA in 1999. In the fall of 2000, SFMOMA exhibited over 300 works from the Anderson Collection—including these six Frank Stella paintings—in the critically acclaimed Celebrating Modern Art: The Anderson Collection.