A BMW painted in a strange, square pattern.

A BMW painted by famed artist Frank Stella.
Photo credit: Chen Heng Kong / Shutterstock

Frank Stella has had a huge impact on the world of modern art—so much so, in fact, that he’s the subject of a new exhibit at the de Young Museum of Art in San Francisco. The exhibit began its life at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and will be staying at de Young until February 26 in the Herbst Exhibition Galleries.

The exhibition opened with a star-studded dinner event. Guests included local big names like Thom Weisel, a frequent art donor to de Young, and many others.

Widespread appreciation of Stella’s work is not unwarranted. Frank Stella has challenged and explored the conventions of modern art for almost six decades. Starting with his Black series paintings in the late 1950s (the artist was 23 at the time and straight out of college), Stella’s work has experimented with color, space, and technology.

Stella was born in Malden, Massachusetts. In 1936 he attended Phillips Academy in Andover and Princeton University, where he studied art history and painting. After graduation he moved to New York City and started on his Black series. While he never completely defined himself as a Minimalist, his work definitely inspired the movement.

While the Black series put Stella on the map, he wasn’t content to rest on his laurels. Next came a transition to experiments in color with paintings like Jasper’s Dilemma (1962). And when color wasn’t enough, Stella began working with space and technology, going 3D and incorporating the surrounding gallery space in his work. “What painting wants more than anything else in the world is space,” the artist noted.

Frank Stella: A Retrospective provides visitors with fifty works—paintings, reliefs, sculptures, and maquettes. It’s the first comprehensive US presentation of Stella’s work since 1970.

“Frank Stella’s impact on abstract art is unmatched,” said Max Hollein, Director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “This retrospective is timely and important for San Francisco audiences. To see the development of an artist who created ‘masterpieces’ just one year out of college, who is still working as a major force today—it is impressive to see an extraordinary body of work that spans six decades.”

In addition to the main attraction, the de Young will also be presenting Frank Stella’s Prints, an exhibition of Stella’s experimental printmaking over 25 years. About 40 examples of his work in this area will be brought out from the museum’s Anderson Collection of Graphic Arts.

Over the course of his career, Stella has created 57 series of at least 50 works each. While not everything will be available for viewing at the de Young exhibition, it’s a great place to start trying to understand this complex and important artist.