The Artist Who Turned Destroyed Polish Shuls Into Great Modern Art


Declaring “what you see is what you see” superstar artist Frank Stella (b. 1936) made a name for himself painting minimalist flat black canvases, until a book on the development of the Polish wooden synagogue pushed him to a stylistic breakthrough.

In 1970, Stella received a copy of the 1957 Wooden Synagoguesthe only survey of these structures published before they were destroyed during World War II. Captivated by the buildings’ thatched and segmented exteriors, Stella, who isn’t Jewish, went on to create his Polish Village series (1970-73).

The names of Stella’s brightly colored mixed media constructions—Pilka, Rokow, Lipsko—evoke a world forever lost.  Translating the synagogue floor plans into a series of overlapping geometric planes, Stella used cardboard and aluminum to support and back the components, building depth and pushing the artwork out from the wall.  

An homage to Constructivism—adding another layer of meaning,  given the radical art form’s Russian and Eastern European roots—the Polish Villages series evidences Stella’s artistic breakthrough, the prelude for a trajectory which spanned from flat and minimalist to a new period in which three dimensionality is revealed through a fusion of sculpture, painting, craft and architecture.


Watch an amazing reconstruction of an old wooden Polish synagogue, in 2011:

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