Frank Stella, Artist Who Pushed Abstraction to Its Limits, Dies at 87

Frank Stella, an artist who brought abstraction into brave new directions, defining an era with his black paintings of the 1950s, died on Saturday at 87. The New York Times reported that he had been battling lymphoma.

Stella was among the many artists who responded to the growth of Abstract Expressionism in the postwar years. His spare paintings, made as a riposte to that movement, were particularly challenging, since they contained no color at all and were not intended to provide visual stimulation in any way. As he famously told the Minimalist sculptor Donald Judd, speaking of his own work, “What you see is what you see.”

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A Black woman in a long denim shirt smiling beside a painting of a landscape on an easel.

He would come to redefine painting over and over again during the 1950s and ’60s. In a subversive move, with his work having approached a zero-degree form of abstraction, his paintings turned maximal, enlisting eye-popping combinations of colors arrayed in dazzling patterns. He also produced shaped canvases that broke the medium from its rectangular confines and moved it into the realm of sculpture.

In the decades since, Stella’s art has grown bigger and bigger, with the artist making sculptures that are massive in scale. By turns gaudy and gorgeous, these sculptures assault the senses with their unruly combinations of steel, fiberglass, and more.

Critics have not always responded positively to Stella’s art after the 1960s, but his oeuvre has been considered integral to 20th-century American art history anyway. He was given a retrospective at New York’s Whitney Museum in 2015.

“A giant of post-war abstract art, Stella’s extraordinary, perpetually evolving oeuvre investigated the formal and narrative possibilities of geometry and color and the boundaries between painting and objecthood,” said his New York representative, Marianne Boesky Gallery, in its announcement about the artist’s passing.

A full obituary will follow.

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