Spotlight: Frank Stella’s Marriage of Reason and Squalor, 1967

Frank Stella
Marriage of Reason and Squalor, 1967
Gift of Lawrence Rubin

Frank Stella’s print Marriage of Reason and Squalor is part of Black Series I, a portfolio of 9 lithographs published by Gemini G.E.L. and based on earlier paintings with the same titles.  The companion painting for this work, The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II (1959) is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, NY.

Stella’s early work denies illusionistic space, emphasizing flatness and the materiality of the canvas or paper instead. The lines in these prints are done free hand in metallic gray-black ink; compared to his paintings, the lines are slightly clearer, making the geometric designs extremely dynamic. The image is presented in the lower left corner of the paper, associating the lines of the print with the paper itself and so emphasizing the materiality of the paper as object. The juxtaposition of the stark geometric lines with its off center location further creates a kind of optical illusion with its unsettling asymmetry and imbalance.

These widely recognized prints exemplify Stella’s early style. Inspired by Jasper Johns, the parallel lines and patterns present the entire painting to the viewer at once. Stella’s famous line, “What you see is what you see,” encapsulates his concept of painting as both image and object. Beginning in 1960 with his Aluminum Paintings and Copper Paintings, Stella started experimenting with shaped canvases and reflective surfaces, leading up to the vibrant sculptures and prints he creates today.

-Victoria Kung ’14, Curatorial Intern

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