Fine Art PR Publicity Announcements News and Information
Fine Art PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

MFA Houston Acquires Frank Stella Palmito Ranch (1961)

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has acquired Frank Stella’s Palmito Ranch (1961) from the artist’s landmark “Benjamin Moore” series, which ushered in a new current of Minimalism in American art. The acquisition is a combination museum purchase from the Caroline Wiess Law Accession Endowment and gift from the artist, who made the donation in memory of the late MFAH director, Peter C. Marzio (1943-2010).

Frank Stella, Palmito Ranch, 1961.

“Peter Marzio was everything you would want from the director of a great museum,” Stella commented about his gift. “I got to know Peter when the MFAH invited me to create murals for the 1982 Stella by Starlight gala; from then on I counted him a friend.”

“Palmito Ranch builds on the MFAH’s longstanding commitment to the work of Frank Stella,” said Gwendolyn H. Goffe, interim director. “It was among the last works of art that Dr. Marzio had the opportunity to propose to the museum’s board, and we are profoundly grateful to both the board and to Stella for their support in making this acquisition possible. Now on view in the American galleries of the Audrey Jones Beck Building, Palmito Ranch is a truly radiant presence.”

“We had the privilege of working closely with Stella on this project,” commented Alison de Lima Greene, curator of contemporary art and special projects. “He was the first to point out to me how the title has a special resonance for Texans and he has recalled that it was one of Robert Rauschenberg’s favorite examples of his work. But more important, as the artist himself has stated: ‘Palmito Ranch is as special and as beautiful as a painting can be.’”

About Palmito Ranch
Palmito Ranch is among Stella’s most reductive compositions. It is part of the artist’s 1961 “Benjamin Moore” series, so named for the Benjamin Moore paints that Stella chose for their intense colors and flat, matte surfaces. Individual titles within the series were taken from Civil War Battles; the Houston painting takes its title from the Battle of Palmito Ranch, the last Civil War Battle, fought on Texas soil on May 12–13, 1865.
However, it is formal rather than thematic concerns that Stella engages in Palmito Ranch. The other paintings in this series play with maze-like patterns or simple diagonals; Palmito Ranch is unique in its understated, stacked composition, where painted line and raw canvas create an even, horizontal rhythm. Its saturated palette, measured proportions, and glowing presence are at once immediately vibrant and classically timeless. Interviewed by William S. Rubin regarding the “Benjamin Moore” series, Stella stated: “They were certainly the clearest statement to me, or to anyone else, as to what my pictures were about—what kind of goal they had.”
About the Artist

Frank Stella was born on May 12, 1936, in Malden, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. He attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where Carl Andre and Hollis Frampton were among his classmates. In 1954 he entered Princeton University, where he studied painting with Stephen Greene and majored in history, writing his thesis on Hiberno-Saxon manuscripts. Shortly before his graduation in 1958, he saw Jasper Johns’ “Target” paintings at Leo Castelli Gallery, an encounter that prompted his first foray into striped compositions. Moving to New York City, he supported himself as a house painter, and launched into the celebrated “Black Paintings” during the winter of 1958-59. His work was introduced in the landmark Sixteen Americans exhibition curated by Dorothy Miller for the Museum of Modern Art in 1959.
In the 1960s Stella’s explorations of saturated color
and reductive compositions became icons of the decade as he tested the limits of painting through shaped canvases and an ever-increasing use of scale. In the 1970s and 1980s he opened up his work to fresh frames of reference, embracing new industrial materials, exuberantly three-dimensional forms, and architectural space. At the same time, he began to delve into a new range of sources across the history of art and architecture. In particular, his work responded to the architecture of sacred spaces, from Poland’s rustic wooden synagogues to the dynamic edifices of Baroque Rome.

Celebrated by two major retrospective exhibitions organized by the Museum of Modern Art (1970 and 1987), Stella maintains an international presence today. His early paintings were the subject of a 2006 exhibition organized by the Harvard Museums that traveled to The Menil Collection, Houston; his explorations of sculpture and architecture were shown by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2007; the Irregular Polygons of the mid-1960s have been examined afresh by the Hood Museum of Art and the Toledo Museum of Art in 2010 – 11; and his collaboration with Santiago Calatrava is the focus of a major installation currently on view at the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin.

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