Frank Stella, k.161a (2011)

What does music look like? A century ago, the Theosophists, an esoteric group that influenced the early modernists, believed they could see colors floating above performances of Mendelssohn, Gounod and Wagner. The look of music drove Wassily Kandinsky to experiment with abstraction.

Frank Stella (b. 1936) has been abstraction's leading innovator since painting his famous chalk-stripe compositions in the late 1950s. Now, by developing sculpture based on the music of Baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti, he returns to modernism's roots.

Today, the question of how music looks seems less mysterious than it did a century ago. Technology has given form to sound. In the iTunes era, we can easily "visualize" music with the use of computer software. Mr. Stella likewise uses computers to model his latest sculptures, producing them in plastic on advanced "rapid prototyping" 3-D printers.

Mr. Stella's innovations can outstrip his form. Some of his large sculptures of the past decade, fabricated through a variety of means, are overwrought jumbles. For his small sculptures at FreedmanArt, now entirely computer made, the laboring is gone. In his "k.161" suite from 2011, with starlike chords topped with arpeggio cones, he composes work that sounds great and looks good, too.


Frank Stella: New Work
25 E. 73rd St., (212) 249-2040
Through Sept. 27

--adapted from The Wall Street Journal, July 7, 2012