Solid Mother Courage; sensitive Cyrano; witty, cool Frank Stella
Frank Stella at the Fogg ''Intelligence functioning at intuitional velocity,'' the poet E. E. Cummings once said of a fellow artist. These days, the phrase aptly describes the work of Frank Stella, 30 of whose paintings and constructions are at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard through Jan. 26. A fine mini-retrospective in keeping with the ''teaching museum'' character of the Fogg, it draws together samples from 15 of the more than 20 major series of works that chart Stella's course over the past 25 years.
Reacting against the emotion-drenched action painting of the Abstract Expressionists, Stella came through a period whose names alone (''Notched V Series,'' ''Irregular Polygons,'' ''Protractor Series'') suggest the engineer-cool intensity of his search for appropriate forms. But if emotion is the substance of tragedy, intellect is the stuff of comedy: And Stella's work, in the end, is full of sharp wit. Much of it alludes to the themes of Cubism, Futurism, and other major movements of this century. And some of the works - like the etched magnesium/honeycomb aluminum ''Eastern Rand,'' which resembles a full-scale cutaway model of a commercial rooftop air conditioner - seem almost to laugh at those who dare try to understand it.
But others captivate by their sheer brio and sophistication - ''Valletta,'' for example, a satellite-dish-shaped construction incorporating labels from cans of ''K mart Foaming Engine Degreaser'' whose motto (''Spray it on / hose it off'') seems to mock the cathartic, purifying value traditionally attributed to art. And the best of them (including ''Moultonboro III'' and ''Playskool Yard'') catch a balance of feeling and thought that amply reward long looking. On display here is a style which, though short on what Kandinsky called ''the spiritual in art,'' belongs to a keenly inquisitive and exceptionally talented juggler of this world's shapes and forms.