Chocorua IV, 1966. Fluorescent alkyd and epoxy paints on canvas.
Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College
© 2010 Frank Stella/ Artists Rights Socety (ARS), New York. Photo by Steven Sloman.

In a recent review of the Frank Stella show, Irregular Polygons at the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College, Boston Globe art critic Sebastian Smee ended with these words:

I myself really do admire Stella. There is such verve and liveliness in almost everything he has done. He has played the abstract game as well, as intelligently, and as thoroughly, as anyone. He has relished first abstraction’s self-sufficiency, and then its links with the outside world. And he has not been afraid to recognize its limits.

And yet other artists — even other abstract artists — so often look better. And when they do, it’s because their reasons for painting or sculpting the way they do go deeper. They’re more personal, more persuasive.

It’s not that you can’t feel temperament or personality in Stella’s work. His personality is too forceful for that. Rather, it’s that the personality you do feel is always floating away from the work. You’re feeling the restlessness of that personality, and — notwithstanding all of Stella’s spatial games — a sort of pond-skimming inability to puncture the surface of things.

His works are marvelous, and then they are not.

Ah, that ageless issue of taste. Of preferences. Of proclivities that make one artist more appealing to us personally than another. My good friend Carl, a lifelong Stella fan and about as knowledgeable on the man and his work as anyone alive, is so personally connected to Stella’s oeuvre that this dismissal by Smee was more than irritating to him. My response was that everyone who lives their life centered on the visual arts has their “anchor” artists, those two or three lynchpin individuals whose vision is so aligned to your own that you keep coming back to them over and over again. And Stella isn’t on Smee’s list, clearly.

Long ago I quit trying to achieve the highfalutin goal of detached objectivity and just surrendered to the subjectivity that runs my life whether I acknowledge it or not. Opinions about everything! Favorite foods, favorite movies, favorite artists—and oh so many topics to explore and choose favorites from. It’s feast of subjectivity.

My anchor artists? As a young art student the list was Henri Matisse, Mark Rothko and Richard Diebenkorn. Right this minute I’d say my list is Agnes Martin, Brice Marden and Richard Tuttle. But being the rampant subjectivist that I am, that could change tomorrow.

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