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Olkienniki No. I

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Olkienniki No. I

Artist: Frank Stella (American, born 1936)

Date: 1972
Medium: Felt, painted cardboard and canvas on chipboard
Overall: 92 x 82in. (233.7 x 208.3cm)
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 81.10
Label Text
Frank Stella has created abstract works of art throughout his career. When asked to explain what his paintings meant, he is said to have replied: "What you see is what you see." His primary concerns are, therefore, considered formal - pictorial space; the creation of visual interest through the arrangement of shapes, colors, and textures; the interplay of one form against another; and the movement of lines around a composition. Since the early 1960s, Stella has also created shaped canvases that defy conventional expectations for painting. Two-dimensional works, such as Olkienniki No. I, can be very sculptural, and the lines of the work extend beyond itself to activate the wall on which it hangs.

Although Stella's abstract works do not symbolize anything beyond themselves, it should be noted that the artist was inspired to create this painting (and others known as the "Polish Village" series) after reading of synagogues in Poland that were destroyed during the 17th through the 19th centuries.


Text Entries

Frank Stella’s “Polish Village” series of 1970—73 explores space through abstract means. This series was seen by critics as opening up new possibilities for his art, as well as for modernist painting in general. What was new in those works was their avoidance of a strict serial effect, and their sense of disjunctive depth and texture on a two-dimensional surface.(1)

In Stella’s abstract paintings of the early 1960s, the internal surface pattern of stripes paralleled the framing edge or shape of the canvas. By the late 1960s he had developed another basic shape—the half circle—into a highly involved series of compositions. Throughout this period he used a wide range of paints—metalic, Day-Glo, acrylic, enamel, and fluorescent—to vary the color and texture of his paintings. At this time he also experimented with a series of irregular polygon paintings, dominated by two or three large, impacted shapes. These paintings introduced a degree of spatial ambiguity into the flat picture plane of modernism.

In the “Polish Village” series Stella allowed the interior geometric shapes to move freely within the bounding edge. Like his irregular polygons of 1965-66, he designed compositions that forsook the absolute identity of surface pattern and canvas shape that was so characteristic of his early work. He created illusionistic spaces without clear gestalts. In Olkienniki No. 1, for example, there are separate perceptions of space and time within the work. The color bars—shades of red, green, and yellow—float free in the lower region, interlock in the center and top left, and then penetrate and activate pockets of small spaces created by the major interlocking shapes.

In the early 1970s Stella had read a book on the destroyed Polish ‘synagogues of the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries.(2) He particularly admired the materials and carpentry techniques of this wood architecture. In his “Polish Village” series Stella reflected upon these conditions, but did not attempt to represent the individual synagogues. With a two-dimensional medium he expands our vision of space and heightens our tactile sensations through the use of diverse materials, collage techniques, and relief effects. He dared to renew modernist painting with allusions to vernacular architecture, to the structural complexity of Cubism and its legacy, and to the bold, linear gestures of some of his immediate predecessors, the Abstract Expressionists.

In developing the “Polish Village” series, Stella first executed over forty different drawings. In the first full-scale development of the drawings numbered 1 through 13, he painted and collaged flat materials—felt, paper, and layers of painted canvas—on stretched canvas. Because of technical problems, he switched to canvas glued to heavy cardboard (KachinaBoard) which was then secured to a strainer support. In the second group of drawings, numbered 14 through 42, of which Olkienniki No. 1 is a part, he also used light cardboard as one of the collage materials. He then executed two other versions of each configuration in which components of the design are raised and tilted in space.(3)



1. For two critics’ views of the significance of the “Polish Village" series for Stella’s art, see Rosalind Krauss, “Stella’s New Work and the Problem of Series,” Artforum, vol. 10 (December 1971), pp. 39-44; and Louis Finkelstein, “Seeing Stella,” Artforum, vol. 11 (June 1973), pp. 67-70.

2. Carolyn Cohen, Frank Stella, Polish Wooden Synagogues: Constructions from the 1970s, exhibition catalog (New York: The Jewish Museum, 1983), p. 4.

3. For a discussion of the technical aspects of this series, see Philip Leider, Stella Since 1970, exhibition catalog (Fort Worth: The Fort Worth Art Museum, 1978), pp. 10-12.


Presumed copyright: the artist or the artist's representative/heir(s) / Licensing by ARS, New York, NY.