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Exhibition focuses on vital role of literature in Frank Stella's innovative printmaking
Frank Stella, American, born 1936. Cantahar, 1998. Lithograph, screenprint, etching, aquatint and relief on paper, 133.35 cm x 133.35 cm. Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, U.S.A. Tyler Graphics Ltd. 1974-2001 Collection, given in honor of Frank Stella, 2003.44.274. / © 2017 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

PRINCETON, NJ.- Between 1984 and 1999, the acclaimed American artist Frank Stella executed four groundbreaking print series – each taking its inspiration from a literary text: Had Gadya, Italian Folktales, Moby-Dick and the Dictionary of Imaginary Places. In the process, Stella’s creative practice evolved to create prints of unprecedented scale and complexity, through which he both achieved a technical and expressive milestone in fine-art printmaking and transformed his visual language in all media.

Frank Stella Unbound: Literature and Printmaking presents 41 prints from Stella’s four literary print series, alongside historical editions of their literary catalysts. This exhibition focuses on the critical role that world literature played in Stella’s powerful exploration of the print medium and will be on view at the Princeton University Art Museum, from May 19 through Sept. 23, 2018.

“The Museum is honored to be the first to closely examine Frank Stella’s richly evocative relationship with literature on the auspicious occasion of his 60th reunion at Princeton,” said James Steward, Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, Director. “To experience these vibrant and life-affirming works on paper allows us to more fully grasp the artist’s rigorous process and his extraordinary range of interests.”

In 1983, while serving a prestigious yearlong appointment at Harvard University and having just completed a residency at the American Academy in Rome, Stella began working on a print series entitled Illustrations after El Lissitzky’s Had Gadya. It was the first of four consecutive pioneering print series named for literary sources, each of which has a distinctive narrative structure: the traditional Passover song Had Gadya, which had previously been illustrated in 1919 by Russian Constructivist artist El Lissitsky; Italian Folktales, a colorful anthology compiled and retold by Italo Calvino, published in 1956; Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, first published in 1851 but recognized as a canonical work of American literature following a 1930 edition illustrated by Rockwell Kent; and The Dictionary of Imaginary Places by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi, a witty encyclopedia of fictional lands and places selected from literature, published in 1980 with fanciful maps and illustrations. In each of these bodies of work, Stella advanced his visual thinking and the technical processes that allowed him to break the boundaries between the surface plane of the picture and the representation of spatial depth. At the same time, he developed a language of assembled materials and layered processes with which he explored the narrative potential of abstract forms.

Frank Stella is celebrated worldwide for his decades-long investigations of expressive abstraction in both two- and three-dimensional media. Both his early hard-edged work from the late 1950s and 1960s and his later efforts to break the flat plane of paintings are among the most groundbreaking moments in the art of the past 50 years. His work has been exhibited and collected by major museums around the world.

Frank Stella Unbound is co-curated by Mitra Abbaspour, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Princeton University Art Museum, and Calvin Brown, associate curator of prints and drawings at Princeton, with assistance from Erica Cooke, Ph.D. candidate in art and archaeology at Princeton University. A beautifully produced catalogue of the exhibition, published by the Princeton University Art Museum, illustrates each of the works exhibited and explores Stella’s dynamic engagement with literature and printmaking across his career.

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