The first thing visitors encounter in this exhibition of recent works by Frank Stella is a "no smoking" sign designed by the artist. The sign is key to the show, since the massive paintings and sculptures on view were inspired by smoke and the ways it rises and drifts in the air. Over the course of his 40-year career, Stella was often photographed smoking one of his beloved Cuban cigars -- a habit he has since given up.
The smoke, suspended in its unique domain, inspired the artist in his continuing search for non-Euclidean geometric forms in space. In recent years Stella has employed computer programs to help transform this spatial idea into works of art. The mural-sized, brilliantly colored abstract canvases on view -- Das Erdbeden in Chili, Organdie and Chatal Huyuk Shrine A.III.1 -- convey a mesmerizing sense of shifting planes and uncertain depths, a topological space that is both interior and exterior.
The exhibition also features three cast-aluminum sculptures -- a wall relief and two freestanding works, each featuring thick metal tubes used as a base-like rest that the artist refers to as the "easel." The term indicates a straightforward link between the sculptures and his paintings. Chatal Huyuk Shrine A.III.1 is a frontal piece of protruding, spiraling forms jutting from a large rectangular plate far into the gallery space.
Recently Stella has made the logical move from sculpture to architecture, and in the rear gallery he presents two maquettes -- one small and the other grandiose -- for a bandshell being built in Miami. To complement the stark white arching form that fills the space, he painted the walls bright red, yellow and blue in a nod to Barnett Newman's epochal painting, Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue? Based on the shape of a beach hat, Stella's Bandshell is full of the wit, humor and conviction evident in all of the other works on view.
Frank Stella, "New Work," Nov. 11-Dec. 11, 1999, at Sperone Westwater, 142 Greene St., New York, N.Y. 10012.
Part of this exhibition will be included in a Frank Stella survey show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, Dec. 19, 1999-Mar. 12, 2000, curated by Bonnie Clearwater.