Frank Stella (American, 1936–2024), Tahkt-I-Sulayman Variation II, 1969, acrylic on canvas. Gift of Bruce B. Dayton, 69.132

Mia mourns the passing of Frank Stella

Frank Stella, a giant of the art world who helped shift its center of gravity to the United States in the post-war era, died on May 4 in New York. He was 87.

Stella has long had an outsize presence at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. His monumental painting Tahkt-I-Sulayman Variation II has held a place of prominence in the museum nearly since its creation in 1969—the work was acquired for Mia that same year by longtime benefactor Bruce Dayton. In 2015, an image of the painting adorned a water tower in Minnetonka, one of three works from Mia’s collection chosen for the honor in celebration of the museum’s 100th anniversary. Mia also commissioned a local bicycle maker that year to recreate the painting as a two-wheeled homage.

Tahkt-I-Sulayman is an icon within Mia’s collection, beloved by visitors for its exuberant geometries and gemlike hues,” says Casey Riley, chair of Global Contemporary Art and curator of Photography & New Media at Mia. “It fairly leaps into the eye and mind, an open invitation to behold painting at its most elemental.”

Frank Stella (American, 1936–2024), Gattenom, 1996, stainless steel. Gift of Diane and Richard Cohen, 2000.237.12

In recent years, several exceptional prints by Stella have come into Mia’s collection, including Pergusa Three, a reference to an Italian racetrack, made in collaboration with master printer Kenneth Tyler in 1983. Gattenom, an abstract sculpture of tightly curved steel, made by Stella in 1996 and gifted to Mia in 2000, shows the artist’s ever-evolving range as he experimented with new forms and media.

Stella was born to Italian immigrants in Massachusetts in 1936 and became known in his twenties for his series of Black Paintings—geometrically precise white lines on an otherwise black canvas—and the Aluminum and Copper series that followed, galvanizing the art world with his almost machine-like minimalism. As a form, he said, the concentric square—or square within a square—is “so good that you can use it, abuse it, and even work against it to the point of ignoring it. It has a strength that’s almost indestructible.”

By 1963, when Stella traveled to the Middle East, he was looking for new inspiration. He found it in circles. The curved walls surrounding places like Tahkt-I-Sulayman, an ancient shrine in northwest Iran, led to what Stella called his Protractor Series. Begun in 1967, the colorful, massive paintings of semi-circular designs made Stella “a god of the Sixties art world,” as one critic put it. A group of the works were on view at the Leo Castelli Gallery, in New York, when Dayton chose the largest for Mia.

“For contemporary visitors, the work is a reminder of Stella’s engagement with the art of the ancient world, how he used the canvas as a site of dialogue with the sacred and civic architecture he encountered during his travels,” Riley says. “We are honored to care for such an important element of Stella’s legacy and to share his vision with future generations of visitors.”

Tahkt-I-Sulayman Variation II is currently on view in the second-floor atrium of the Target Wing. The work was restored in 2018 with funding from Bank of America. You can learn more about the process here, and watch it being rehung here: