Ahab, the Pequod and Frank Stella

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Martin Mugar reflects on Frank Stella: A Retrospective at The Whitney Museum of Art, New York, on view through February 7, 2016.

Mugar writes: "There is an analogy here to Stella and his relationship to the long optical tradition of western painting. The crew of the Pequod which experiences a hands on feel for the world around them is not experienced by Ahab in its essence but is manipulated and ignored in the way Stella’s colors are abstract in the worst sense, derived from color-aid packs, not the way color is experienced in the eye as you see in Bonnard, Matisse or Cezanne. He has left artistically the sensuality of being in the world behind in order to fulfill what he sees as his manifest destiny to occupy more and more space. His formal elements are not achieved but imposed as he piles patterns on top of patterns. If there is an analogy in Stella’s lack of grounding in the sensual it fails in comparison to Ahab himself. Stella does not live up to the ascetic delirium of Ahab. The journey he takes us on is neither majestic nor exhilarating. There is no hint at the void that lies under all of his exploits."

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