The Toledo Museum of Art has expanded its holdings of post-World War II American abstract art by acquiring two works by Frank Stella (born 1936), Conway I and La penna di hu.
Toledo Museum of Art Director Brian Kennedy said these significant works not only enlarge the Museum’s abstract art collection but also enhance its initiatives in teaching Visual Literacy. “Stella’s clear emphasis on certain visual elements and principles—in his own words, ‘line, plane, volume and point, within space’ supports our efforts to give visitors a more enriching visual experience.”
Stella has been recognized as among the most important living painters since he was in his early 20s. The “Irregular Polygons” can be seen as a transitional body of work between Stella’s early, flat stripes and his later relief paintings.
Conway I, created as part of the “Irregular Polygons” series in 1966, presents a large horizontal rectangle into which a smaller parallelogram is inserted from below. The surface is demarcated from edge to edge by five colors of fluorescent alkyd and epoxy paints on canvas: a hot red that dominates most of the upper rectangle; the pale blue-white “lozenge” shape that partially overlaps into the red field, and three eight-inch stripes in silvery-white, gray-green and hot pink that serve as distinct boundary lines.
Like all of Stella’s “Irregular Polygons,” Conway I is named after a town in New Hampshire that has personal associations for the artist. The painting was among those seen in the 2010–11 exhibition Frank Stella: Irregular Polygons, 1965–66 at the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College and the Toledo Museum of Art, curated by Brian Kennedy.
Conway I joins Stella’s 1969 Lac Laronge IV in Toledo’s collection, bringing together two paintings that frame a three-year period of significant transition for the artist.
La penna di hu
La penna di hu is a keynote work for Stella, the culmination of his more than two decades spent exploring formal combinations of various shapes. It is a sculpture uniquely suited to the most fundamental terms of visual analysis because of its varying degrees of translucency and transparency and its variety of intersecting or otherwise interacting shapes.
Recently seen in the Stella retrospective at the Kunstmuseum in Wolfsburg, Germany, La penna di hu, created between 1987 and 2009, is a mixed media work of etched magnesium, aluminum and fiberglass.
The large-scale assemblage of open-work shapes is painted in Dayglo red, yellow, blue, hot pink, gray and black. The shapes are primarily cylinders and cones with flat cutouts. Unlike traditional sculpture, nothing is enclosed. Instead, the frames and cages enable us to see what contributes to the physical dynamics of the work. The elements hover in front and behind, in some cases seeming to penetrate a sea-green rectangular screen. The whole relief pushes out from the wall far enough so the viewer could step behind it, though not all the way around it.
Not unlike an unfurled peacock tail, the work is brightly colored, dazzling, active and aptly named. Translated into English, the title means “The Peacock Feather” and is named for an Italian folktale that reminds us of the artist’s ancestry in Sicily.
Visitors to the Toledo Museum of Art will find La penna di hu in Gallery 1 and Conway I in the Wolfe Gallery for Contemporary Art, both located in the Museum’s east wing. Admission to the Museum is free.
- Toledo Museum of Art | Toledo, OH