In Memoriam: Frank Stella

Color photo of the profile of a light skinned man with an arm upraised and hand holding a paintbrush to a canvas on the wall
Frank Stella painting in his Academy studio in 1982–83 (American Academy in Rome, Institutional Archive)
Black and white photo of the heads and shoulders of two men and one women in conversation
Frank Stella at the Academy in 1982 (American Academy in Rome, Institutional Archive)
Black and white photo of two large prints hanging on a gallery wall
Installation view of the Academy’s Frank Stella exhibition in 1983 (American Academy in Rome, Institutional Archive)

Frank Stella (1983 Resident, Trustee Emeritus), one of the most influential figures in American art in the second half of the twentieth century and beyond, died on May 4, 2024. He was 87 years old. Almost instantly, tributes poured in, including from his gallerist Marianne Boesky, Jane Pauley (with a special CBS Sunday Morning segment), the Guggenheim Museum, and others.

Born in Malden, Massachusetts, Stella attended Phillips Academy and Princeton University, where he took some of the school’s first studio courses under Stephen Greene (1954 Fellow). Moving to New York, Stella painted houses and, from his studio on the Lower East Side, created his important black paintings that impressed critics and catapulted him to prominence at the age of just 24. His bright Protractor series in the 1960s, exhibited at Leo Castelli Gallery, was also wildly successful. In 1965, he was among the artists representing the United States at the Venice Biennale.

During his 1982–83 residency at the American Academy in Rome, Stella spent much of his time researching Caravaggio and Rubens. These investigations became part of his Norton Lectures at Harvard, which were adapted into his well-received 1986 book Working Space, which related the crisis of abstraction of his time to the crisis of representational art in sixteenth-century Italy.

At the Academy, Stella was also a vibrant part of the community. The architect James Timberlake (1983 Fellow) wrote on X that the artist “taught [him] a devastating tennis serve.” At the time, the Academy had a tradition of staging an annual Christmas play for the staff’s children, and Stella designed the sets, creating two different backdrops, photographs of which are in our Institutional Archive (and pictured below). That year, the Academy also organized an exhibition of his new prints. Stella later served on the Academy’s Board of Trustees, in the late 1980s, and served on the painting jury for the Rome Prize competition.

Black and white photo of two performers (man and woman) in costume standing in front of an abstract painted backdrop
The Christmas play in December 1982, with scenery painted by Frank Stella (American Academy in Rome, Institutional Archive)

Stella’s many honors include the National Medal of the Arts (2009), the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French Government (1989), the Gold Medal for Graphic Art Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1998), the Gold Medal of the National Arts Club (2001), and the Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award from the International Sculpture Center (2011). President Obama awarded Stella the National Medal of the Arts, the nation’s highest award for artistry, in a White House ceremony in 2009.

In his later years, Stella continued to invent and innovate new ideas for abstraction through large sculptures, such as Adjoeman (2004), Jasper’s Split Star (2017) at a plaza near the World Trade Center, and Jacksonville Stacked Stars (2023), installed in February at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, Florida. In 2015–16, the Whitney Museum of Art presented a large retrospective of Stella’s career.

Stella is survived by his wife, Harriet E. McGurk, three sons, two daughters, and five grandchildren.

Black and white photo of a light skinned man at a party
Frank Stella with Ingrid Rowland (1982 Fellow, 2000 Resident) at the Christmas play in December 1982 (American Academy in Rome, Institutional Archive)

Press inquiries

Andrew Mitchell

Director of Communications

212-751-7200, ext. 342

a.mitchell [at] (a[dot]mitchell[at]aarome[dot]org)

Maddalena Bonicelli

Rome Press Officer

+39 335 6857707

m.bonicelli.ext [at] (m[dot]bonicelli[dot]ext[at]aarome[dot]org)