Understanding Stella: The Polish Village series

Discover how Stella’s series traces the loss of wooden synagogues in Europe and the rise of abstract painting
Chodrow II (1971) by Frank Stella, from his Polish Village series
Chodrow II (1971) by Frank Stella, from his Polish Village series

In 1970 the US architect Richard Meier gave Frank Stella a copy of the 1959 book Wooden Synagogues by Maria and Kazimierz Piechotka, Jewish architecture experts, and veterans of the Warsaw uprising.

The book, showing pictures of fine, geometric, timber buildings all but lost from the European landscape following the Second World War, fascinated Stella. Unlike Meier and the Piechotkas, he is not Jewish, but Italian-American. Nevertheless, Stella found in these images inspiration for over 100 abstract works, now known as his Polish Village series.


Lanckorona I (1971) by Frank Stella
Lanckorona I (1971) by Frank Stella

These angular, panelled works, constructed largely from paper, felt and canvas, aren’t simple commemorations of these lost buildings, but a far more scholarly examination of the flow of culture.

“These synagogues were destroyed during the war, and there were two things interesting about them,” explained Stella during a 2016 lecture in Havana, which is transcribed and reproduced in our new Contemporary Artist Series book. “One was that there was a kind of geometry in the construction, the wooden construction, which I would call interlocking-ness: interlocking parts that are interesting as a kind of geometry.

“The other thing that was compelling was that the trace of the destruction of these synagogues was from Berlin to Warsaw to Moscow. The development of abstraction in the twentieth century traces that same path, from Moscow to Warsaw to Berlin and back.”


Odelsk I (1971) by Frank Stella
Odelsk I (1971) by Frank Stella

There can’t be many artists who look at a long, lost place of worship, and link it back into the rise of Suprematism, and fewer still who could create such delicate works, working historical narratives into otherwise abstract works. Then again, there really aren’t many artists like Frank Stella.


Frank Stella

For more on these paintings and many others order a copy of our new Frank Stella book, part of our Contemporary Artist series. And you can catch some great Frank Stella work at these exhibitions: New York, NY, Loretta Howard Gallery, Racers: Larry Poons and Frank Stella until February 10. Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern Block Museum of Art, Experiments in Form: Sam Gilliam, Alan Shields and Frank Stella, until June 24, Fort Lauderdale, FL, NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, Frank Stella: Experiment and Change, until July 1, 2018 and Tuttlingen, Germany, Galerie der Stadt Tuttlingen, Frank Stella Prints (title tbd), October 6 – November 25, 2018.

Meanwhile, on Friday, February 9 there is ‘An Evening with Frank Stella’ at the University of Houston. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Euphonia there will be a discussion between Frank, Rick Lowe and Alison de Lima Green. 

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