HOUSTON, TX.- The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
, has acquired Frank Stellas Palmito Ranch (1961) from the artists landmark ―Benjamin Moore‖ series, which ushered in a new current of Minimalism in American art. The acquisition is a combination museum purchase from the Caroline Wiess Law Accession Endowment and gift from the artist, who made the donation in memory of the late MFAH director, Peter C. Marzio (1943-2010).
"Peter Marzio was everything you would want from the director of a great museum," Stella commented about his gift. "I got to know Peter when the MFAH invited me to create murals for the 1982 Stella by Starlight gala; from then on I counted him a friend."
"Palmito Ranch builds on the MFAHs longstanding commitment to the work of Frank Stella," said Gwendolyn H. Goffe, interim director. "It was among the last works of art that Dr. Marzio had the opportunity to propose to the museums board, and we are profoundly grateful to both the board and to Stella for their support in making this acquisition possible. Now on view in the American galleries of the Audrey Jones Beck Building, Palmito Ranch is a truly radiant presence."
"We had the privilege of working closely with Stella on this project," commented Alison de Lima Greene, curator of contemporary art and special projects. "He was the first to point out to me how the title has a special resonance for Texans and he has recalled that it was one of Robert Rauschenbergs favorite examples of his work. But more important, as the artist himself has stated: 'Palmito Ranch is as special and as beautiful as a painting can be."
Palmito Ranch is among Stellas most reductive compositions. It is part of the artists 1961 ―Benjamin Moore‖ series, so named for the Benjamin Moore paints that Stella chose for their intense colors and flat, matte surfaces. Individual titles within the series were taken from Civil War Battles; the Houston painting takes its title from the Battle of Palmito Ranch, the last Civil War Battle, fought on Texas soil on May 1213, 1865.
However, it is formal rather than thematic concerns that Stella engages in Palmito Ranch. The other paintings in this series play with maze-like patterns or simple diagonals; Palmito Ranch is unique in its understated, stacked composition, where painted line and raw canvas create an even, horizontal rhythm. Its saturated palette, measured proportions, and glowing presence are at once immediately vibrant and classically timeless. Interviewed by William S. Rubin regarding the ―Benjamin Moore‖ series, Stella stated: "They were certainly the clearest statement to me, or to anyone else, as to what my pictures were aboutwhat kind of goal they had."
Complementing the acquisition of Palmito Ranch, the MFAH has received an important related gift, Stellas 1967 Black Series II. Among the artists first explorations of lithography, this suite of eight prints, 15 x 22 inches each, was published by Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles. They are now recognized as among Stellas most iconic graphic statements.
Black Series II comes to the MFAH as a gift from Marc, Judy, and Hayley Herzstein, and Brooke, Dan, and Lily Feather, in loving memory of Max Herzstein, Houston entrepreneur and arts patron. While the MFAH has exceptional examples of the artists later graphic production, the gift of The Black Series II addresses a major gap in the Prints Department and importantly expands on the museums representation of the revolution that galvanized American printmaking in the 1960s.