Frank Stella named the pieces in his series after towns in New Hampshire. Pictured “Moultonville II.” (Photo By Steven Sloman)

The always exemplary but never quite lovable work of Frank Stella is one of the enigmas of modern art. Rarely do you encounter people who feel passionately about Stella. They are impressed — how could they not be? — by his intelligence, his range, and the consistent audacity of his work. And they recognize his place in the pantheon.

But they almost never express the sort of deep-seated enthusiasm you routinely hear expressed about his peers — people such as Donald Judd, Barnett Newman, Dan Flavin, or Jasper Johns.

In contrast to those other artists, whose work, even at its most apparently cerebral, suggests burning conviction and private necessity, there’s always been something synthetic, arbitrary, and not quite real about Stella’s work. That may be ironic, given Stella’s forceful personality (“I never felt that minimal,’’ he told me in a 2003 interview), and the premium he has always put on reality. His most famous statement is: “What you see is what you see.’’


Sebastian Smee
Boston Globe