There is an ongoing connection between fashion and art, which is not to say that fashion always rises to the level of art. Nonetheless, as a longtime fashion editor and an art history major in college, I love to relate the two, when applicable, and I totally buy into the Oscar Wilde missive: “One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art”. I’m also quite satisfied with walking around world class galleries and museums, and simply taking in the great art, as was the case last night. I attended a VIP Reception at the Whitney Museum of American Art in celebration of their new exhibition, Frank Stella: A Retrospective which opens on October 30 and runs through February 7th. A joint venture between the Whitney and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the exhibition has been organized by Michael Augping, Chief Curator, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, along with Adam. D. Weinberg, Alice Pratt Brown, and Carrie Springer, Director and Assistant Curator respectively, the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Frank Stella in conversation

Speaking of fashion and art, according to Julie L. Belcove, (who penned an article about Stella that ran in the Wall Street Journal last November), when he was growing up, his mother attended fashion school, and “he credits a Vogue layout, featuring models posed in front of Franz Kline’s graphic smears of black on white canvas, for his eureka moment about abstraction. He thought, I can do that!” And fashion designer Pamella Roland, who not only sits on the board of the Whitney, but lent “significant support” to this exhibition, (the major sponsor is Morgan Stanley) cited the Post painterly abstraction of Frank Stella, and his “unique vocabulary of line and color”, as inspiration for her 37 piece collection, which she showed at the Whitney during New York Fashion Week in September.

Frank Stella

Almost as soon as I exited the elevator which took me up to the 5th floor (the exhibit takes up the entire floor and then some), I spotted Frank Stella. Standing there alone, in one of the central galleries, the Massachusetts born, Princeton educated legend was completely over shadowed by some of the iconic paintings which hung on the walls. While a towering figure in the art world (and one of the most dominant and influential figures in abstract painting during the 60’s through the 90’s), he is relatively small in stature. Quite frankly, nobody but Godzilla would be a match for the massive, over scaled paintings and sculptures he has become known for. Indeed, some of the ones on display were so large, they took up an entire wall and I needed to stand far back, in another room, in order to get a full shot.

A guest wearing an ensemble that mimics the artwork

True to form, when I pointed my camera at the unassuming and modest 79 year old, he at first playfully covered his face with his hat, but he then removed it, so that I could take a picture of him, as he began greeting and receiving guests. FYI, he looked approvingly at my graphically striped dress (admittedly very art like), which I wore as an homage. The invitation called for “festive attire”, and while most of the people I saw apparently could not have cared less about that missive (not to mention the fact that it was a nasty, rainy evening), a few, like me, seemed to have factored in the honoree, a leading figure in the Minimal art movement, known for his use of stripes, geometry, and intense color, when they got dressed. Of course, there was also a lot of black being worn, which was not only chic, but very much in keeping with Stella’s most iconic works: The Black Paintings, dated 1958- 1959.

A guest wearing an ensemble that mimics the artwork

This is a formidable exhibition on many levels. Stella, known for his unconventional and unemotional approach to his craft, and for his relentless experimentation, is arguably one of the most important American artists living today, and this is the first survey of his career in the U.S. since 1987 (and the most comprehensive presentation of his career to date). There are approximately 100 works on display (paintings, reliefs, maquettes, sculptures, and drawings) dating from the 1950’s to the present. It’s a highly representational mix of his best known along with his lesser known works. There was so much to see (and it’s such a powerful eyeful), it was impossible to digest in just one visit and I will definitely want to make several trips back.

A picture from the exhibition

It’s been said, that Stella is “not interested in expression or sensitivity. He is only interested in the necessity of painting”. He is not only passionate and talented, but philosophical and eminently quotable. Among his memorable observations:

“Up until 35 I had a slightly skewed world view. I honestly believed everybody in the world wanted to make abstract paintings, and people only became lawyers and doctors and brokers and things because they couldn’t make abstract paintings”

“A sculpture is just a painting cut out and stood up somewhere”

“Time is what you have left. You just march with it and use it the best you can”

“I don’t like to say I have given my life to art. I prefer to say that art has given me my life”

“If we are the best, it is only fair that they imitate us”

“What you see is what you get.”

– Marilyn Kirschner 

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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