If there is one art gallery that has controlled most of the heavy-hitting contemporary artists in recent history, it is Leo Castelli. The gallery has represented Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Liechtenstein, Frank Stella and Andy Warhol. But earlier this year, Castelli moved to East 79th Street, effectively losing its powerbase. Many of its remaining artists have been fleeing. The latest to defect is Frank Stella, who will have a show in November at Sperone Westwater Gallery on Greene Street in SoHo, finally cutting ties to Castelli that go back to 1958.
Mr. Stella was in China on a vacation with his son and was unavailable for comment, but Susan Brundage, a gallerist who worked with Mr. Stella at Castelli and who herself recently joined Sperone Westwater, confirmed that Mr. Stella had left Castelli. For more than 20 years, Ms. Brundage ran Castelli with her sister, Patty. She quit two years ago in a dispute with Mr. Castelli’s new wife, Barbara, over the direction of the gallery. Ms. Brundage said she decided in June to join Sperone Westwater, which is run by her friends Gian Enzo Sperone and Angela Westwater. “I don’t know who else we can pull over here,” said Ms. Brundage of raiding Mr. Stella from Castelli. “But I wouldn’t be adverse to it.”
Mr. Stella is a feather in the Sperone Westwater cap. The serious, relatively small second-floor SoHo gallery has made its reputation primarily by introducing European artists such as Not Vital to the United States; it also represents notable Americans such as Susan Rothenberg and Richard Tuttle. The gallery has never represented an artist of the stature of Mr. Stella.
Since the late 1950′s, the Andover- and Princeton-educated Mr. Stella has pushed the boundaries of abstract art, starting with his early black paintings, which foreshadowed the minimalist movement of the 1970′s. That’s still true. At 63, Mr. Stella is undergoing a revival of interest that is not unlike that enjoyed a few years ago by Tony Bennett, who became a Gen X idol for reasons that were never clear to anyone, least of all Mr. Bennett.
Several years ago, painter Peter Halley cited Mr. Stella as an important influence, but at the time he seemed to be in a group of one. Once considered the most important living artist, Mr. Stella has had his ups and downs. During most of the 1990′s, he has been quietly working on public commissions, and has not had much of a gallery career. According to Richard Polsky’s 1998 Art Market Guide , Mr. Stella’s art is sorely undervalued. The artist’s record auction price is $5.06 million, set in 1989 for Tomlinson Court Park , a seminal black painting from 1959. In recent years, auction prices have been in the low six figures.
But Mr. Stella recently completed his first architectural commission to be built–a bandshell adjacent to the Miami Heat’s new American Airlines Arena on Biscayne Bay–that will debut on Dec. 31 with a show called “Gloria Estefan Millennium Spectacular.” To coincide with the arena’s opening, the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami has organized Frank Stella at 2000: Changing the Rules , a retrospective of the artist’s 1990′s work. Bonnie Clearwater, the director of the MoCA North Miami and curator of the show, said young artists often refer to Mr. Stella in awe. “A number of younger artists who are working in abstract art have cited him as an important influence,” Ms. Clearwater said.
Since the late 1980′s, Mr. Stella has aggressively pursued public sculpture commissions, and those who are close to him said he has long wanted to design buildings. He was commissioned to create the bandshell by Arquitectonica, the Miami architecture firm that is designing the arena. The result is a spiraling white armature, based on the shape of a Brazilian beach hat, made out of reflective aluminum and painted white.
Mr. Stella has also broken into computer-generated art. In March, his recent use of the computer in his paintings was noted in the San Francisco-based magazine Wired . Writer Steve Silberman heaped praise on Mr. Stella, whom he admired not only for his willingness to use new technology but for his gruff style. Mr. Stella turned to the computer because he wanted to find a way to represent the smoke rings he creates with his cigars, or in his own words, “creating shapes that I hadn’t seen before–a kind of Faustian fantasy.”
Mr. Stella’s first exhibition at Sperone Westwater, scheduled for November, will challenge the gallery’s small proportions. On one wall, he will show a 40-foot-long, brightly colored abstract painting based on his digitized rings of cigar smoke. He will also show what he refers to as an “easel painting,” which is actually a three-dimensional aluminum sculpture that looks like it was the outcome of a serious explosion in a metalworks. Also on view will be a maquette of the Miami bandshell.
Chelsea Gains Another: Paul Kasmin Leaves SoHo
Continuing the northwestward migration of contemporary art galleries, Paul Kasmin Gallery has announced that it will trade in a small SoHo space for a larger one in Chelsea. Beginning in October, the eponymous gallery will be located in its own building at 293 10th Avenue at 27th Street. Mr. Kasmin told The Observer he is sorry to be leaving SoHo, but the economics were hard for him to continue to justify staying.
“My lease was up in SoHo and for what they wanted me to pay for 2,000 square feet I could have 8,000 square feet in Chelsea,” he said.
The new gallery, housed in a former garage, is being designed by architect Fred Sutherland and will be inaugurated with an exhibition of paintings by Elliott Puckette, one of the gallery’s most important artists. The second exhibition will feature stitched photographs by Andy Warhol.
Follow Jeffrey Hogrefe via RSS.