Material Crescendo: Frank Stella at The Phillips Collection

Frank Stella, K.43 (lattice variation) protogen RPT (full-size), 2008 | Protogen RPT with stainless steel tubing, 144 x 176 x 116 inches. Courtesy of FreedmanArt. © 2011 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Gregory R. Staley.

Frank Stella doesn’t play second fiddle, but for Wassily Kandinsky he’ll play second harpsichord. Well, sort of. Currently on display at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. is Stella Sounds: The Scarlatti K Series, a subset of the painterly sculptures the artist originally exhibited at Paul Kasmin Gallery in 2009. Inspired by the eighteenth century harpsichord sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti, Stella’s work is meant to provide a contemporary context for the Phillips’ concurrent show, Kandinsky and the Harmony of Silence, an examination of the creative process that lead to Kadinski’s 1913 pioneering abstract masterpiece “Painting with White Border.

The idea is that contemporary abstraction like Stella’s has its theoretical roots in Kandinski’s trailblazing work, and despite the artists’ differences — just about 100 years worth of differences — there’s a visual dialogue that results from the pairing. Also evident is the merging of painterly and sculptural space, as Stella’s objects, mostly hanging on the walls like paintings, offer steel armatures that appear to function like the gestural brush strokes in Kandinski’s work.

More pics after the jump!   —Matthew Smith, D.C. Contributor

Wassily Kandinsky, Painting with White Border (Moscow), 1913 | Oil on canvas, 55 1/4 x 78 7/8 in. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, By gift 37.245. © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.


Frank Stella, K.54, 2008 | Protogen RPT with stainless steel tubing, 80 x 53 x 37 in. FS2008.048. Calvin and Jane Lipton Cafritz. © 2011 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph © 2011 Bruce White.


Frank Stella, K.94 (3rd version), 2006 | Alumide RPT, spray paint, 11 x 13 x 10 in. FS2006.051. Courtesy of FreedmanArt. © 2011 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph © 2011 Dominic Nurre.


Frank Stella, K.51, 2008 | Protogen RPT with stainless steel tubing, 75 x 63 x 57 in. FS2008.036. Courtesy of FreedmanArt. © 2011 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph © 2011 Bruce White.


Frank Stella, K.454, 2010 | Titanium, 14 x 12 x 13 in. FS2010.006. Courtesy of FreedmanArt. © 2011 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph © 2011 Dominic Nurre.


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tella Sounds: The Scarlatti K Series is on view at The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, through September 4.

Matthew Smith is an artist and writer in Washington, DC and a frequent contributor to DCist.

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