The Whitney Museum of American Art

1 Story

Lacombe Icons:
Frank Stella

Influence & Legacy


Simply put, Frank Stella is one of the most important figures in the history of American art. The renown painter, sculpture, and printmaker has left an indelible mark on his generation, and as he continues making work well into his seventies, his influence and legacy continues to grow. Sara VanDerBeek is an artist known for using photography to capture sculpture, often integrating the mediums in unconventional ways. For the inaugural NeueJournal print publication, we put the two artists in conversation, hoping to gain some insight into Stella’s process. With his highly anticipated retrospective going up today at the Whitney Museum of American Art (on view until February 7th), it seems like an appropriate moment to reflect on the legend’s career and creative contributions. 


SARA VANDERBEEK: I am very much looking forward to the upcoming retrospective of your work at the Whitney. Are there particular works that you’re looking forward to seeing installed there?


FRANK STELLA: I guess there are a few pieces I haven’t seen in a while, so I’ll be interested in that.


SV: Artists are often most interested in what they are working on now. What does it feel like to revisit and represent works from the past?


FS: I take them for what they are. Some things I remember pretty well, some things I don’t. I don’t worry too much about it because I don’t do anything else. This is what I’ve been doing all my life. It’s what I like to do, and I’m lucky enough to be able to do it.

Photography by Brigitte Lacombe | NeueJournal Issue 1

SV: I enjoyed seeing some of your recent sculptures at Marianne Boesky and was interested to hear from you about the process behind these works.


FS: Most of my recent pieces were made by rapid prototyping. It’s very computer-based and digital. They begin with models and things that I make. And then the models are scanned. When they’re scanned, they’re manipulated in the computer. When they’re manipulated in the computer, the geometry is derived from the related image, and that geometry is used to print the piece.


SV: I photograph in the studio and out in the world, and when I begin a project I research the history of the site of the exhibition and photograph areas in relation to this research that then often inform the work I create for the exhibition. Is history, and drawing upon past experiences, of interest to you? Or are you more interested only in a current idea or form that arises out of the very present?


FS: The only thing we’ve got is the here and now. I don’t worry about anything else.

Photography by Brigitte Lacombe | NeueJournal Issue 1

SV Has it always been like that?


FS: I guess that’s what you would call consciousness.


SV: Do you begin with a sketch, or is it a shape or a material that interests you, and you work from there?


FS: Well, it’s all kinds of things. I have a large studio with a lot of junk in it, and you work with whatever is around at the time. What I did in the early days was make fairly simple diagrams, but they were just plans, and then I built the sketches and made the work. Now, I’m basically a model maker.


SV: You have also included armatures in some of your most recent works, and I’m wondering if this comes from a desire to reveal the process of the work’s creation?


FS: The material is fragile, so the armatures are there to support it in order to be able to handle it. It’s functional, and then you play around with it. But its purpose is that it has to be there, otherwise the pieces don’t stand up. They just break.


SV: Can you talk about the importance of site? Is it an inspiration for your work?


FS: I’m not that dramatic.

Photography by Brigitte Lacombe | NeueJournal Issue 1

SV: You mentioned earlier that you have used rapid prototyping and a computer-based approach. I saw a painting of yours recently that in its use of color, patterns, and form seemed to have a strong connection to contemporary photographic practices. Do you use or think about digital interfaces, photographic capture, or reproduction during any part of your process?


FS: No. I think that’s one of the biggest advantages. It doesn’t have to do with recording any images; it has to do with making something. So the process is kind of direct. You’re basically object-making and that’s it. Another thing is that I’ve never taken a photograph of anything. As far as I know, I’ve never used a camera. So I have to remember something, or it’s gone.


Photography: Brigitte Lacombe for NeueJournal 
Guest Photo Editor: Janet Johnson