The Museum of Solidarity, established by president Salvador Allende in 1971, had the mission of educating the people of Chile about fine art. Its collection was amassed through donations from many internationally known artists. One such donation was Frank Stella’s Isfahan III, which he created in 1968 and donated to the Museum of Solidary in 1972. Isfahan III—which measures more than 10 feet tall and 21 feet across—is part of Stella’s Protractor series, a series of irregularly shaped canvases each named after locations in the Middle East.
The work arrived in Chile and was exhibited for the first time in 1973. That same year, however, a military coup overthrew Allende’s government, forcing the museum to scatter its collection to a number of temporary storage locations.The majority of these works would remain in storage for years to come or go missing altogether. Isfahan III found its way to a storage facility belonging to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santiago, where it would stay for almost two decades.
In 1991, the Museum of Solidarity re-opened as the Salvador Allende Solidarity Museum and the process of recovering the donated works began. When Stella’s Isfahan III was discovered in the Museum of Contemporary Art’s storage facility, it was discovered that the canvas had spent years folded up and abandoned on the warehouse floor. Even worse, museum workers had been completely unaware of its importance and value. For decades, workers had been using the Stella masterpiece as a table for lunch breaks, eating on the painted surface. The canvas was creased and the painted surface was damaged. In addition, its frame and support structure were not saved, creating difficulty for its potential exhibition and conservation efforts.
Nonetheless, Isfahan III was the centerpiece of the Salvador Allende Solidarity Museum’s revival exhibition in 1991. The museum sent the artwork for minor restorations and it traveled to exhibitions around the world on a temporary stretcher. In 2019, the painting went under a second round of restorations through the Getty Foundation’s “Conserving Canvas” initiative, which would allow the painting to go through a year-long restoration process and for a new, permanent stretcher to be created for the work, increasing its longevity and continued travel all over the globe.
Stella himself has remained close with the museum, visiting on multiple occasions and collaborating with a team to create an oral history project regarding the famous painting’s unique journey. In its current restored state, Isfahan III is one of the Salvador Allende Solidarity Museum’s collection highlights.
The series of twenty-five prints published over 3 years was Stella's most ambitious project to date, related to his earlier Circuits series. The name of the series comes from the Swan Engraving Company in Connecticut where Stella had shapes cut for his Circuit works. The scraps of these shapes, as well as templates for doily patterns which Swan Engravings Company produced were incorporated into the series, creating intricate graphic patterns. The prints were made by collaging the scraps and templates together on a plywood backing, then inking them and printing, producing intaglio and relief prints. Such a method of assembling the plate from various components was used here for the first time by Stella, exemplifying the constant innovation in his work from series to series.
The series stands out among Stella's other series of the same time, such as the Shards Series and the Had Gadya Series, due to the prominent use of black in the first nine works and the relatively monochromatic palette of the other 16 pieces. Additionally, due to the uneven surface of the assembled plates, the printing process produced an embossed effect on the paper, resulting in etchings that, while borrowed many elements from Stella's previous works, offer something completely different and undeniably beautiful.
Swan Engravings Series, 1982-1985
The first nine works of the series are printed exclusively in black, each a gorgeous baroque composition that takes full advantage of its lack of color.
The 10th piece of the series contains all the lyrical monochromatic movement of the first nine, but with the addition of a shocking blue border and swift blue forms placed at the center of the piece.
The next twelve pieces of the series are presented in an eye-catching circular format, the first 5 and the last 7 made up of the same collaged forms but printed in different colors.
The next two works return to the large rectangular format, with the addition of a border that contains the collaged pieces and gives the works a wonderful balance of baroque business and geometric neatness.
The last piece of the series possesses a remarkable tranquility. Dominated by a smoothly curving form that stretched diagonally across the piece, the composition is beautifully organized, with the bright blue shapes sitting at the foreground, while a the dark green-black recedes into the background, giving the work immense depth.