How American artist Frank Stella bridges the gap between Poland and Bali

Story highlights

American artist Frank Stella is a key figure in minimalist and abstract art

This month, works from his "Polish Villages" and "Bali" series debuted at Sprüth Magers' Berlin gallery

CNN  — 

American artist Frank Stella has made his debut with Sprüth Magers, showing works from his 1970’s “Polish Villages” and “Bali” series of the noughties at their Berlin gallery.

Bridging geography, time and style, the series represent distinct phases in the seminal American artist’s career: the former, Russian Constructivist-styled reliefs inspired by Polish synagogues that were destroyed by the Nazis; the latter, painted steel wire sculptures based on photographs from anthropologists Margaret Mead’s and Gregory Bateson’s studies of children in Bali.

Sprüth Magers showing works by American artist Frank Stella at their Berlin gallery.

Together, they speak to Stella’s continued experimentation with form and abstraction, transcending the confines of traditional 2D painting.

But maybe spelling out this connection is missing the point – at least, that’s what you’ll get if you ask Stella himself for comment.

“People don’t mind looking at something and then seeing something that doesn’t relate immediately to it,” the 80-year-old said ahead of the exhibition’s opening. “That’s what we found at the Whitney.”

Frank at the Whitney

The blockbuster “Frank Stella: A Retrospective” opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York last October and moved to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth this spring.

Billed as “the most comprehensive presentation of Stella’s work to date,” the show brought together works from every key period in his career, from his stark “Black Paintings,” displayed at the Museum of Modern Art when he was just 22, to his large-scale “Moby-Dick” inspired sculptures from the 80’s and 90’s, to his diverse output in the new millennium.

At the Whitney, Stella remembers watching visitors move through the space (“It seemed like I was there every day!”), charting their own paths and often doubling back to make sense of the exhibition, which was not arranged along an obvious theme or chronologically.

Read: 12 must-follow art curators on Instagram

“The exhibition was relatively mixed by the conventions of museum shows,” he says. “People seem to be more open to moving back and forth and to thinking about things much more; not so desperate to move from beginning to end.”

New relationships

This idea of constant thought and reflection through deliberate juxtaposition was at the core of another exhibition of his work earlier this year.

At the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, “Frank Stella and Synagogues of Historic Poland” saw his reliefs displayed alongside prewar photographs and drawings of the buildings that initially inspired him, as well as a recreation of a section of one of the synagogues.

Read: Wolfgang Buttress’s “Hive” controlled by bees

“It’s a record basically of architectural history… It’s an attempt, in a way, to preserve the architecture and the ideas behind it,” he says.

But in spite of having familiarized himself with the synagogues themselves and their history before he began work on the series in the 70’s, Stella was still struck seeing his work contextualized with the other effects.

“I mean, the relationship between [the recreated synagogue] and the pieces we had, and the drawings there – You know, [“Polish Villages”] didn’t really seem nearly as far-fetched as it did in the beginning!”

“Frank Stella” is on show at Sprüth Magers Berlin until September 3, 2016.