Frances Stark

May 7, 2002 - August 25, 2002

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Number 6 in a series of 16, something wonderful by means of a photogenic quality

Diptych: carbon and graphite on Chinese boards. Courtesy of the artist and Marc Foxx Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo by Brian Forrest.

Frances Stark's Hammer Project, organized by assistant curator Claudine Isé, consists of a sixteen-work series collectively titled "The Unspeakable Compromise of the Portable Work of Art." Stark's project engages with Daniel Buren's early 1970s writings on "the art system," the various public and private spaces through which art objects circulate. The drawings, collages, sculptures, and textual commentary that comprise this series date from 1998 to the present and have never been exhibited together before now. Stark is also a well-known writer, and each piece is accompanied by her witty, personal, and self-consciously ruminative texts, which often directly address the owner of the work or the preparators who install it. Claudine Isé says, "Taken as a whole, these writings reflect upon the projection of meaning and symbolic value onto the artworks by Stark herself as well as the gallerists, curators, collectors, art handlers, and others who encounter these objects in a variety of contexts."

This Hammer Project was curated by Claudine Isé, assistant curator.

Frances Stark: "Unspeakable" Series

By Claudine Isé


The Unspeakable Compromise of the Portable Work of Art (1998-2002) is a series of sixteen works by Frances Stark that collectively engage the artist Daniel Buren's 1971 essay "The Function of the Studio."(1) Buren sought to reveal the ideological support systems that structure how paintings (the "portable works" to which he refers) are understood and how the appearance of a painting on a museum's walls in turn frames the institutions that safeguard works of art. The artwork's "unspeakable compromise," as Buren sees it, arises from the fact that when it is taken from the studio and placed within the museum or gallery, it is divested of its history, its context, and ultimately of its own specificity. Buren's memorable phrase has made a number of appearances in Stark's work, including one in her book The Architect and the Housewife (1999). But it is in her Unspeakable Compromise series that Stark's ongoing tête-à-tête with Buren begins to take on a life of its own. These works, which were made over a period of several years, have never been exhibited together before now. This Hammer Project, which includes a number of new works, thus marks the series' culmination. It also provides a unique opportunity to consider Stark's drawings and her writings side-by-side, as overlapping and mutually informing discursive channels.


Stark is probably as well known for her published writings, which fold cultural observation and textual analysis into the conventions of the personal essay, as she is for her visual art. Her drawings and collages are made up almost entirely of writing, usually short phrases quoted from literary or cultural sources and copied laboriously by hand in stacked, repeating lines of text. Neither form of production is privileged over the other, and in both, Stark is broadly concerned with the arbitration of differences-in other words, with the art of compromise. Subtly weaving together a number of different ideas, contexts, and personal and literary references, she demonstrates how two or more seemingly contradictory or unrelated concepts actually inform one another to a startling degree. When reading her texts, one quickly takes note of her peculiarly roundabout way of getting to her point, a kind of decentered and horizontal movement through disparate ideas and discontinuous strategies that, far from going nowhere, allows her to consider various possibilities at once. More

1. Daniel Buren, “The Function of the Studio,” October 10 (fall 1979): 51-58.
2. Frances Stark, The Architect and the Housewife (London: Book Works, 1999), 17.

Claudine Isé is an assistant curator at the UCLA Hammer Museum.


Hammer Projects are made possible, in part, with support from The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Additional support has been provided by the Los Angeles County Art Commission and the Pasadena Art Alliance.

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