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Stella in the Sculpture Garden

Today’s post comes from Erin Gallagher, class of 2013 and Art Center Student Docent.

Frank Stella (American, b. 1936), Etang d’ambach, 1992. Stainless steel. Gift of Stephen Mazoh. 2003.38.

The stainless steel sculpture Etang d’ambach by Frank Stella is one of many compelling works now on display in the Art Center’s newly re-designed Sculpture Garden. In this 1992 sculpture, Stella—known for his bold, anti-illusionistic paintings—moves away from the minimalist aesthetic, departing from flat, monochromatic canvases that deny space and depth to embrace the complex spatial dynamics inspired by the masters of the Roman Baroque.
Based on the motif of the smoke ring, the spiral form of Etang d’ambach expands from a narrow bottom into a full, twisting structure intended to explore the forces of space and movement as smoke rises and dissipates. Stella repeatedly photographed smoke rings by blowing smoke into a black box with cameras fixed to each of the sides in order to capture the contorted forms from all angles. He then created a series of abstract compositions inspired by the resulting images.

Stella conflates the opposing properties of fluidity and stasis in Etang d’ambach by depicting the evanescent quality of smoke in the solid medium of welded metal. The different pieces of the sculpture, assembled from found metal scraps, are bent, bolted, and welded together with various degrees of space and visible light between each fragmented part. The spiral form extends outward into the realm of the viewer, tendering an invitation back into the vortex of the structure. Etang d’ambach evokes a coiled energy, its pivoting motion capturing a spatial theatricality that is enhanced by the assorted array of cast, cut, and polished surfaces that play against one another and reflect varying levels of light from the surrounding garden.

The Hildegarde Krause Baker, class of 1911, Sculpture Garden was a memorial gift by Eric and Jane Baker Nord, class of 1942. The current renovation was made possible through a gift made by the late Ralph Connor, Vassar Trustee from 1963 through 1971.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Hilda

    I am inspired to visit Etang d’ambach on my next trip to the Loeb, and am grateful to the writer for having enhanced the future experience with her compelling and articulate analysis of the piece.

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