Houseguest: Frances Stark Selects from the Grunwald Collection

Houseguest: Frances Stark Selects from the Grunwald Collection

Houseguest is a series of exhibitions at the Hammer Museum in which artists are invited to curate a show of material from the museum’s and UCLA’s diverse collections. For this exhibition, Los Angeles-based artist Frances Stark chose to sift through the works in the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, a collection of more than forty-five thousand prints, drawings, photographs, and artist books dating from the Renaissance to the present. Stark began her research without a specific theme in mind, a process that she describes as “surrendering to taste and to the chance of discovery.” She found herself instinctively drawn to figurative and metaphorical renditions of man and woman. Her exhibition takes the form of a visual essay on the sexes, transporting the viewer through a panoply of themes central to human experience: creation, reproduction, pleasure, the essence of the body, relationships, identity, and death. Stark eliminated photographs from the outset, focusing instead on the intuitive lines of prints and drawings by artists as diverse as the sixteenth-century German printmaker Hans Sebald Beham and contemporary artist Mike Kelley. Each image converses with the next in Stark’s installation, reflecting a flow of moods and sensory transitions from the elated to the melancholic. The exhibition also includes works by Isabel Bishop, Jacques Callot, Edgar Degas, Francisco de Goya, Agnes Martin, Ken Price, and Egon Schiele.

This exhibition is organized by Allegra Pesenti, curator, Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts at the Hammer.


Frances Stark was born in Newport Beach, California in 1967 and lives and works in Los Angeles. She received an MFA from Art Center College of Design, Pasadena in 1993, and currently teaches at the University of Southern California. Her work was shown at the Hammer Museum in 2002 as part of the Hammer Projects series. Other one-person exhibitions have been presented internationally at venues including the Centre for Contemporary Art, Glasgow, Scotland; greengrassi, London; Marc Foxx, Los Angeles; CRG, New York; Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne. Stark’s work has also been featured in thematic exhibitions such as Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2000-2001); Monuments for the USA, White Columns, New York (2005-6); Romantic Conceptualism, Kunstverein, Nuremberg, and BAWAG Foundation, Vienna (2007); Fit to Print: Printed Media in Recent Collage, Gagosian Gallery, New York (2007-8); and Learn to Read, Tate Modern, London (2007). She also participated in the 2008 Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Her solo exhibition Frances Stark: This could become a gimick [sic] or an honest articulation of the workings of the mind opens at MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts, on October 22, 2010, and her work will appear in the exhibition All of this and nothing, which opens at the Hammer Museum on January 30, 2011.

Frances Stark, Curator

By Linda Norden

It is often said of Frances Stark—often by Stark herself—that her medium is language. Writing of all sorts—criticism, experimental fiction, expository essays—occupies as much of her attention as image and object making, and literature is as likely a source for her art as imagery or graphic typography. It’s also true that, as often as not, the “imagery” that she composes consists primarily of text, albeit appropriated text, subject to the tampering hand of the artist. But language is a loose term, and Stark’s engagement with literature is more like than different from her engagement with imagery; she is after something interior that provokes her. In a 1997 article on Stark, Dennis Cooper describes seeing a group of jaded high school students touring an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. To his surprise, the students abandoned their “tightlipped nonchalance” and suddenly became animated when they saw Stark’s seemingly esoteric reworking of the signatures of two nineteenth-century German authors: “Maybe they responded passionately,” says Stark, “because what I’m doing in a lot of my work [is] having a kind of love affair with an artist’s voice…I’m just fascinated by the construction of interiority…[and] I love how literature can be mimetic and revealing at the same time.”1 

This line of thinking allies Stark with artists she admires, such as Ed Ruscha or Raymond Pettibon or Barbara Kruger, for whom reading and looking become inextricably intertwined. But Stark is as preoccupied with the impact of the aesthetics of a given source—be it art, literature, or a live personality—as with its ostensible content. And unlike her older peers, she speaks in the first person: she likes to talk; she also likes to stare and is not above venerating her heroes, even as she is prepared to deconstruct and “dis” their attributes. Whatever the medium, she never lets you read an image or a text or a song or a celebrity within her art without insinuating herself as subject: she has the heightened sensitivities, insistent intimacy, and emotional indulgence of a teenager. “Maybe those kids were responding to the touch of my drawings,” she said to Cooper, “because it’s not creepy or ironic.” But as Cooper noted, Stark “clarified” those adolescent impulses and “fashioned a practice” from the feelings a while back. The close grip that she maintains on adolescent acuity becomes her craft and an aesthetic. Part of the visceral, emotional appeal of her art hinges on her ability to hold fast to the fugitive intensity of her associative mind, to keep an obsessive tug between love and uncertainty in scary tension.

 Ya tienen asiento If conceited girls want to show they already have a seat… 

 Mary Cassatt at the Louvre: Painting  Reaching for the Coat Sleeve  Carretadas al cementerio 

 The Head of the Family  On Stage 


 Repair  Colosseum  Girl with the Purple Stockings  AC The Five Orders of Perriwigs 

 Carretadas al cementerio Berlin Alexanderplatz


 I just perused the images again: so unexpectedly poignant, given the overtness of the sex and the aggressive rhythmic repetitions you use to tie it all together and insist on our attention. I can’t find any overarching link save for melancholia. The erotic pitch, however, is intense, and doesn’t ever sag or abate. It’s interesting, too, that this is so clearly the work (meaning your selections) of a woman. I’m not sure what’s making me say this. Maybe it’s that melancholy, in its Renaissance/ baroque incarnation as melancholia, was so Dürermale, and in our post-AIDS era, [it’s] so hard to extricate melancholy from its identification with that illness. You’ve got those fantastic Beham women posed in poses usually reserved for the male of the species: Melancholia, most conspicuously, but also Female Genius Holding a Coat of Arms. Shocking, actually, that little Beham etching of a woman genius!



This exhibition has received support from the Good Works Foundation and Laura Donnelley.