- Frank Stella
- Delaware Crossing
- Alkyd on canvas
- 77 by 77 in.
- 195.6 by 195.6 cm
- Painted in 1961.
Galerie Rudolf Zwirner, Cologne
Galerie Springer, Berlin
Kasmin Limited, London, April 1969
Carter Burden, New York
Phyllis A. Goldman Fine Arts, New York
Acquired from the above by A. Alfred Taubman in September 1982
Kunstverein Hamburg & Frankfurter Kunstverein, Vom Bauhaus bis zur Gegenwart. Meisterwerke aus deutschem Privatbesitz, May - September 1967, no. 78
Berlin, Galerie Springer, Kunstmarkt 67, 1967
Berlin, Haus am Waldsee; Leverkusen, Städtisches Museum & Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Ornamentale Tendenzen in der zeitgenössischen Malerei, March 1 - July 14, 1968, no. 66, illustrated in color in the catalogue
New York, Museum of Modern Art; London, Hayward Gallery; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Pasadena Art Museum & Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, Frank Stella, March 26, 1970 - May 9, 1971, illustrated in color p. 72 (New York), no. 14 (London) and no. 15, illustrated (Amsterdam)
Klaus Hoffmann, Neue Ornamentik; Die ornamentale Kunst im 20. Jahrhundert, Cologne, 1970, illustrated p. 147
Lawrence Rubin, Frank Stella Paintings 1958-1965: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1986, no. 109, illustrated in color p. 136
Kenneth Baker, Minimalism: art of circumstance, New York, 1988, illustrated p. 35
Alfred Pacquement, Frank Stella, Paris, 1988, illustrated p. 41
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Epic in its expansive, intensely hued surface, Frank Stella’s Delaware Crossing from 1961 is among the outstanding milestones of Minimalism, emblematic of one of the most stridently revolutionary and cogent achievements in the canon of twentieth-century Contemporary Art. Stunningly beautiful in both its conceptual daring and searing sharpness of execution, Stella’s unwavering control is on dazzling display in this unrivaled and historic masterpiece. The crisp regularity and rigid symmetry of the painting’s configuration maintains direct simplicity and absolute clarity, harnessing a potent immediacy that articulates the relationship of the two-dimensional picture plane to its three-dimensional support. At and around every successive right angle, we are treated to a resplendent fury of bold prismatic radiance that at once epitomizes the stark rationality of Minimalism while blazing with an irrepressibly expressive chromatic energy.
The phenomenal Delaware Crossing belongs to a small group of the artist's celebrated Benjamin Moore paintings, which he began in 1961. Referring to the brand name of the paint used—Benjamin Moore alkyd house paint—each of the six large-scale canvases in this early series are approximately six-and-a-half feet square, and employ one of six distinct symmetric patterns executed in one of six primary or secondary colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple). Early on in his career, Stella became intrigued by the Benjamin Moore paints he had seen on the sample cards of commercial paint dealers. During his first six months in New York, in 1958, Stella supported himself primarily by painting apartments; this experience remained a core element of his practice, as he decided to employ only the six primary and secondary colors readily available in commercial cans of house paint. Stella famously wished “to keep the paint as good as it was in the can,” attracted by the matte normality of these utilitarian paints. The esteemed group of Benjamin Moore paintings debuted in the artist’s first European one-man show at Galerie Lawrence in Paris in 1961. Almost ten years later, all six are reproduced together again in the Museum of Modern Art's 1987 retrospective catalogue, but only Delaware Crossing was included in that landmark travelling show. At Galerie Lawrence Rubin, the 1961 show also included 35 of the smaller 12 by 12 inch versions of the same six patterns and palette. These smaller variations received particular attention from Andy Warhol, who asked Stella in 1962 to paint him a set of six, now in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum. While the five other works in the Benjamin Moore series are titled after Civil War battles, Delaware Crossing further stands out from the group as the only one to invoke the American Revolution. In William Rubin's words, "there are in Stella's art—and it is an aspect of its relative accessibility—the vestiges of a certain banality. Yet it is precisely when life's commonplaces are amplified by the spirit of genius that the truly universal work of art is born" (exhibition catalogue, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Frank Stella 1970-1987, 1987, p. 7).
The sheer literalism of Stella’s canvas and absolute eschewing of illusionism within his predetermined format allowed the artist to focus on the material properties of the picture plane—pure color here reigns supreme in its elemental brilliance. The immediacy of the fiery red surface and geometric rectilinear pattern that characterize Delaware Crossing possess the clarity and ultimate summation of Stella’s goal. The configuration of Stella’s bands of color here directly emulate and refer to the design of Die Fahne Hoch!, the 1959 Black Painting in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. Completely matte, uniform, and symmetrical, Delaware Crossing provides a riveting thesis on the radical candor of Stella’s painting practice. The methodical choice of hue and the artist’s explicit naming of its commercial source both serve to articulate Stella’s ultimate conceptual project. This avoidance of chromatic decision and free will paralleled the given nature of the square pattern—solving many problems for Stella right out of the gate. Nevertheless, the all-over monumental picture plane echoes, and even trumps, the visual impact and immediacy of Stella’s Abstract Expressionist forebears. Meanwhile, the static alkyd paint and absolute symmetry of the picture plane force out any illusionistic space, achieving instead an evenness where the intensity of color and form remain regular across the entire surface. In an interview with William Rubin, Stella said of the Benjamin Moore series: “They were certainly the clearest statement to me, or to anyone else, as to what my pictures were about—what kind of goal they had.” Regulated by strict 90- and 180-degree angles, Stella insisted on a factual and objective geometric system to best illustrate the color and texture of paint as it came out of the can. The pure evenness of the paint is formally echoed by the total symmetry of the picture plane, resulting in a surface that is at its most unambiguous. However, unlike the Black, Aluminum and Copper paintings that preceded it, which proffered a neutrality in their anti-color, Delaware Crossing adopts the monochrome but revels in the vibrancy of bold primary red. With the Benjamin Moore paintings, Stella narrowed the unpainted spaces between the bands; unlike the 1/8 inch gap in the preceding Aluminum and Copper series, here Stella reduced the canals to approximately 1/16 of an inch, thereby maximizing the visual power of his red lines. Moreover, the paint did not bleed between the lines, and the color showed no fluctuation; Robert Rosenblum commented on this absolute eschewal of expression: “Within the relative scale of possible reduction in Stella’s art, these works of 1961 approach most closely the point of rock-bottom” (exhibition catalogue, New York, Museum of Modern Art, Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today, 2008, p. 75).
Stella attended Princeton University under the tutelage of William Seitz, the influential Museum of Modern Art curator who also wrote the earliest major text on Abstract Expressionism. Stella commented: “I was very taken with Abstract Expressionism, largely because of the obvious physical elements, particularly the size of the paintings and the wholeness of the gesture. I had always liked house painting anyway, and the idea that they were using larger brushes… seemed to be a nice way of working…” (exhibition catalogue, New York, op. cit., p. 9). Opposite to the improvisational drama of the Abstract Expressionist theater, Stella turned to diagrammed, regulated patterns, a level of standardization that recalled his roots as a house painter. Interested in finding a way of painting that expelled the overwhelming subjectivity and sensitivity of the Abstract Expressionists that dominated the discourse of the era, Stella eradicated improvisation and abandoned any sense of allusion or allegory. Using the house painter’s technique and tools provided a method of paint application that echoed the predetermined grid format, driving any illusionistic space or personal heroicism out of the painting in an effort to counter the rhetoric surrounding Abstract Expressionism. The influence of Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman on Stella’s earliest striped paintings is incontrovertible. However, it was not until Stella saw Jasper Johns’s paintings at his first solo exhibition in January 1958 that the crucible of repetition and interval began to occupy Stella’s practice. The explicit directness and ‘objectness’ of Johns’s pictures, in addition to his strict adherence to the pre-ordained format of the subjects he chose—Numbers, Targets, and Flags—present a clear link to Stella’s reverence for the flat pictorial field and stressing of the painterly surface. Just as Johns’s Flag remains a flag rather than an image of a flag, Stella’s Delaware Crossing presents paint on canvas: a frank and brutally factual representation of its own medium and making.
Robert Rosenblum noted of the Benjamin Moore paintings: "in many ways these paintings of 1961 are the most hermetic and the least visually and emotionally seductive of any of Stella's early work. Lacking the dark, enigmatic drama of the Black Paintings or the startling unfamiliarity of the metallic hues and new shapes of the Aluminum, Copper and Lavender canvases, they may appear exasperatingly simple and mute. Yet again, following that tradition in modern painting which makes us look all the harder at a [Piet] Mondrian or a [Barnett] Newman, if we are to look at their work at all, these paintings force the spectator to consider the most elementary pictorial facts, whether of color or of pattern, and to sense, with the artist, the Eureka quality of beauty to be discerned in these foundation stones of picture-making. And inevitably, this reduction of vocabulary obliges the viewer to register the subtlest variations in surface and texture, almost totally concealed in photographic reproduction..." (Robert Rosenblum, Penguin New Art 1, Frank Stella, Baltimore, 1971, p. 29). The authentic originality of Stella’s art, and the conviction with which he pursued its premises, was to provide a new challenge not only for American painting, but for all art at this pivotal midpoint of the last century. In the course of the 1960s he would emerge as cartographer of one of the few genuinely new paths for the continued development of major non-figurative art, and Delaware Crossing towers as a monumental expression of this forging into bold, entirely undiscovered artistic territories.