I have given no small attention to that not unvexed subject, the skin of the whale. I have had controversies about it with experienced whalemen afloat, and learned naturalists ashore. My original opinion remains unchanged; but it is only an opinion. Chapter 68, “The Blanket,” Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
Robert K. Wallace gave a generous lecture for Tuesday Evenings at the Modern six days before the closing of Frank Stella: A Retrospective and two days before the museum’s Modern Reading: Moby-Dick Marathon that spanned the closing weekend of the exhibition. Dr. Wallace is Regents Professor of Literature and Language at Northern Kentucky University, a Melville scholar, and, with his extensive research for his book Frank Stella’s Moby-Dick: Words & Shapes, published in 2000 by University of Michigan Press, a scholar of a very specific aspect of artist Frank Stella’s work. In his lecture, Wallace relayed the story of discovering Stella when he happened into a gallery showing a Stella and Yoko Ono two-person exhibition. When he inquired about one of Stella’s pieces, he learned it was from the artist’s Moby-Dick series, which naturally captured Wallace’s imagination given his interest in Melville. That discovery led to years of research, traveling around the world to see the varying works from the series in public and private collections, as well as regular conversations with the artist and visits to Stella’s studio.
What Wallace learned in this comprehensive process, including his insightful observations, realizations, and propositions, was laid out with fervor and clarity in this Tuesday Evenings lecture. With his background in literature, Wallace’s perspective challenges art-world notions that the work is pure abstraction with no narrative ties. His is an interesting and sincere take on this twelve-year pursuit by one of the most industrious and fervent champions of abstract painting.
Image: The Blanket (IRS-8, 1.875X), 1988, by Frank Stella, photographed at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth during Modern Reading: Moby-Dick Marathon on 9.15.16