Frank Stella Comes to London with Millennial Murals and Scrap-Metal Archeology

Considering all the art to see in London during Frieze Week, Bernard Jacobson Gallery set the bar ambitiously high with a show of work by the game-changing American artist Frank Stella. On view are several series from the 1990s and 2000s (as well as one from the ’70s) that all look astoundingly fresh and contemporary in their expression.

In the selection of works on view, Stella has applied his recognizable vibrant color palette across a number of formats, ranging from smaller, classically geometric drawings and lithographs to giant, exuberant abstract paintings. A highlight of the show, the seven-panel Die Marquise von O (1999), evokes a street mural in aesthetic and scale, measuring almost 45 feet in length. While the size alone is striking, given a closer look, the painting’s intricate construction unfolds; elaborate layers of acrylic and spray paint have been applied painstakingly. A faux collage of sorts, the work draws on the avant-garde technique of montage while testing the boundaries of abstraction and figuration. Its title is a reference to a novella by the 19th century visionary Heinrich von Kleist, who is known for his melodramatic prose. Also on view is a series of nine paintings, Michael Kohlhaas (2000),  named for the main character of another von Kleist story. 

While providing an interesting contextual backdrop to the work, having Kliest on your bookshelf is not integral to appreciating Stella’s ecstatic paintings. It’s interesting to consider that the works were made around 15 years ago. Stella’s fragmented, graphic compositions seem prophetic at times, recalling the scrolling aesthetics of Tumblr, for example, but pre-dating the platform’s rise to popularity by nearly a decade.  

The show also features Stella’s voluminous sculptures of scrap metal, which have been mounted on rings and can be observed from multiple angles. Named after famous archeological sites in Turkey’s Anatolia, these works resemble excavation sites, with what look like unusual artifacts half-embedded into silvery slabs like remnants of past civilizations uncovered from the soil.

In addition to continuing the evolution of his brand of abstraction, Stella’s millennial works are intensely eye-catching—and his solo show at Bernard Jacobson is an example of the artist’s masterful ability to continuously challenge the medium of painting. 

—Jeppe Ugelvig


Frank Stella” is on view at Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London, Sept. 17 – Nov. 21, 2015.

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