Salta nel mio Sacco is a large painted relief by the American artist Frank Stella comprising aluminium forms coloured with oil paint. Measuring more than three and a half metres in height, the work is vibrant and arresting, with bold shapes layered on top of and behind one another giving this wall-based work a three-dimensional effect. Triangles, cones, rectangles and semicircles interact with one another, with the pointed ends of the cones and the curved edges of the largest semicircle drawing the eye around the work. A vibrant palette consisting of various shades of blue, yellow and white is in places undercut with pink and purple lines created by Stella’s free-hand drawing.
Stella made this work in 1984 in his studio in the Van Tassell and Kearney Horse Auction Mart building in the East Village, New York. Its title is taken from the final folktale in the Italian writer Italo Calvino’s book Italian Folktales (1956) and translates from Italian to English as ‘Jump into my sack’. Stella met Calvino in 1984 when Stella was giving the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard University. He assigned the title to this work after its completion, however, as he did with all of the artworks in his Cones and Pillars series of 1984–7, to which group this works belongs (see also La Vecchia dell’Orto 1986, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris).
The art historian William Rubin has noted that Stella felt some titles in Italian Folktales ‘echoed a narrative implication’ in his own series, and he accordingly matched the stories to his artworks (Rubin 1987, p.142). In Calvino’s ‘Salta nel mio Sacco’, a young boy is given a magic sack and stick by a guardian fairy, saving him from poverty and illness. He puts the sack and stick only to good use throughout his life and upon his death the fairy is pleased with his actions and the cycle of good deeds is complete. It could be argued that the cyclical nature of Calvino’s story is echoed in Salta nel mio Sacco in the sweeping movements of the shapes that lead the eye around the work. However, in an interview in 1986 Stella stated that in works such as Salta nel mio Sacco ‘the essential issue is to have a sense of form without making it illustrational, to make things that impress the eyesight and have an impact’ (Stella in Douglas C. McGill, ‘Art People’, New York Times, 25 April 1986, http://www.nytimes.com/1986/04/25/arts/art-people.html, accessed 25 June 2015).
This relief is also an exploration of how space can function in abstract art. The curator and critic Karen Wilkin discussed this facet of Stella’s work in 2011:
Stella’s projected space is not flat, yet like modernist flatness, it rejects the boxed-in, hollowed-out fictive distances of traditional painting … Stella’s space is an active, expressive part of composition, as crucial to the communication – as opposed to representation – of emotion as any other element of ‘what you see’.
(Karen Wilkin in Tufnel (ed.) 2011, p.15.)
The protrusion of numerous forms in this work into the areas around its edges demonstrate Stella’s expressive use of space as these forms extend out into the gallery environment.
In the years preceding his Cones and Pillars series, Stella worked on a group of twelve prints entitled Had Gadya 1982–4 (see, for example, Had Gadya: Back Cover 1982–4, Tate T07153), each of which relates to the form of the song ‘Had Gadya’ (‘The Only Kid’) that features in the Jewish festival of Passover. In a similar way to Cones and Pillars, these explore chaotic and colourful formal compositions, and Rubin has commented that the Cones and Pillars are ‘probably closer in spirit to the prints that anticipated them ... than are any other group of Stella’s paintings to his printed works’ (Rubin 1987, p.131). Both series also prefigured Stella’s multi-dimensional paintings of the late 1980s, such as La Penna di Hu (3D, 1X) (1987, private collection).
William Rubin, Frank Stella 1970–1987, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1987, pp.142–47.
Paul Goldberger, Frank Stella: Painting into Architecture, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art 2007.
Ben Tufnel (ed.), Frank Stella: Connections, exhibition catalogue, Haunch of Venison, London 2011, reproduced p.28.
Supported by Christie’s.