Explorations Into Modern Art

Frank Stella once remarked that no artist needs to live beyond the age of 40. He made the comment many years ago, and the implication was that he had no intention of sticking around to witness the diminution of his own talent. It is a truism to say that artists do their most innovative work when they are young. It is also patently false. He remains the only living painter besides Jasper Johns who has been honored with two major exhibitions at the museum. The first was held in 1970; the second, in 1987; and together they seemed to guarantee him an exalted and unshakable place in the story of modern art.

But in the years since, the Modern, along with the rest of the art world, has tilted away from abstract painting and toward broader, socially encompassing forms like figurative painting, video and particularly photography. Stella is not the first artist to lament the direction of contemporary art, but he is probably the first to attribute the downfall of Western civilization to what he terms ”good grooming.”

”Most artists today would not be seen with dirty fingernails or unconfined hair,” he said recently. ”Dirty hair is not part of the contemporary artistic image, any more than are oily pigment, the odor of turpentine or smears of charcoal.” This, he said, explains the ascendancy of photography, a conveniently muss-free medium: ”Mechanical

means have been substituted for manual ones because they do not soil the self or the soul.”

– From the New York Times


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