Frank STELLA, Arbeit Macht Frei Enlarge 1 /1

On display on Level 2


United States of America born 1936

Arbeit Macht Frei 1967
Collection Title: Black series I
Title Notes: 001-000
Place made: Los Angeles, California, United States of America
Materials & Technique: prints, planographic lithograph, buff and metallic black - grey, two runs from 1 offset aluminum plate and 1 aluminum plate Support: Barcham Green paper, off white thick machine mould made
Impression: right to print
Edition: edition of 100; plus 9 artist's proofs; 2 trial proofs; right to print; printer's proof II; 2 archive copies; cancellation proof
Publisher: GEMINI G.E.L.
Place Published: Los Angeles
Date Published: 1967

Edition Notes: Edition printing: James Webb. Offset: Kenneth Tyler at Blair Lithography. Processing and proofing: Tyler. Collaboration and supervision: Tyler.
Primary Insc: Signed and dated in pencil, lower right, "F. Stella ’67".
Secondary Insc: Numbered in pencil, lower right, "Gemini G.E.L." embossed lower right, copyright symbol.
Tertiary Insc: Stamped on verso, "Gemini G.E.L. Los Angeles, Calif. Workshop number inscribed in pencil on verso, "FS67-135"
Dimensions: comp 23.8 h x 37.8 w cm sheet 39.0 h x 55.8 w cm
Cat Raisonné: Axsom (1983), 10; Axsom (2016), 10
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1973
Accession No: NGA 73.947.4
Image rights: © Frank Stella/ARS. Licensed by Viscopy

While for many artists in the 1950s and ‘60s black allowed for a return to art’s primordial or essential roots, for Frank Stella it retained an inescapable relationship to the real world. Black was the colour of power, whether industrial or ideological. It was also the colour of nihilism. In 1958, Stella began work on a series of black geometric paintings, some carrying names associated with Nazism. Arbeit macht frei (‘Work makes you free’) was the phrase placed at the entrance of many Nazi concentration camps, while Die Fahne hoch (‘The flag on high’) is the opening line of the Nazi anthem. While Stella’s intentions remain ambiguous, it is highly possible that his black geometric images with Nazi-related titles point to the difficulty of making art in the face of the Holocaust.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra