NCMA Recommends: Raqqa II

Frank Philip Stella, Raqqa II, 1970, synthetic polymer and graphite on canvas, 120 x 300 in., Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Hanes

Frank Stella’s Raqqa II is more than a painting: It’s an architectural dream, a partial realization of a large scheme, a hope dashed. That’s a lot for one picture (even a huge one) to handle, but it’s all true. Raqqa II was meant as a major inclusion in a series of paintings called the Protractor Series, a planned grouping of 31 canvases highlighting a circular or arched design (inspired by ancient cities with circular plans–in this case, Raqqa, an ancient city in modern-day Syria). The full series, though, was never completed, which surely must have been a disappointment to Stella. Nevertheless, Raqqa II is still a triumph, an eye-catching, heart-stopping riot of color and shape, an experiment in what a painting can be–an image too big to be hemmed in by a rectangular frame.–Jennifer Dasal, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Remembering Polish Synagogues

Frank Stella has other artworks named after various cities around the world. In the online exhibition Frank Stella and Synagogues of Historic Poland, we gain further insight into how Stella often named his work after important cities or sites with significant architecture. In his Polish Villages series, he named each piece after a village where Jewish synagogues were located before their destruction during World War II, using sketches and photographs made by the Department of Polish Architecture during the interwar period to inspire his work. Stella’s work reminds us that even though buildings can be destroyed, their historical significance can live on through the memories and efforts of those who care.–Cara Greene, Interpretation Intern

View Exhibition Catalogue Online

In 1970 MoMA presented the first retrospective of Frank Stella’s work, for which there is a fully digitized exhibition catalogue by William Rubin. The exhibition covered nearly a decade’s worth of the artist’s paintings and drawings, foregrounding his pioneering shaped canvases, including the Protractor Series.–Erin Rutherford, Librarian

We’re All in This Together

We asked followers of NCMA Recommends to share their favorite selfies for us to weave into a work of art in our collection. Raqqa II, with its geometric lines and color blocking, seemed like the perfect inspiration for showing our shared connections, even as we continue to be (mostly) apart.

Speaking of connections, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” It brings us together and reaches the depths of our souls. Represented in North Carolina’s expansive music scene is bluegrass, jazz, Latin and Senegalese music, and everything in between. Enjoy the music of our state, from mountain to sea, as we celebrate our collective unity.–Janette Hoffman, Acting Artistic Director and General Manager of the Outdoor Amphitheater

Stella and Company

Learn about Frank Stella and other American artists of the era in these documentaries.

 – American Art in the 1960s (1972). Director: Michael Blackwood. Portrait of artists from the 1960s like Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, and Frank Stella, and their respective art movements and techniques. Rent on Vimeo or Amazon.

– Who Gets to Call It Art? (2006). Director: Peter Rosen. The New York art scene in the 1960s through the eyes of Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Henry Geldzahler. Rent on Vimeo.

The Math Angle

Frank Stella’s Raqqa II is part of the artist’s Protractor Series, which was titled after the half-moon-shaped device that helps math students measure angles. Stella’s composition uses shape, pattern, and precise measurement, making it a great example of how artists use math (implicitly or explicitly) when creating their work. Find more ways to connect art and math on NCMALearn.

Family Activities

Turn the shapes from Raqqa II into a piece of wearable art with cardboard and paint. Find details of this activity and more ways to move, read, watch, and create at NCMALearn.–Courtney Klemens, Manager of Family Programs

Educational Lesson Plan

In this NCMALearn remote learning project, students create a fabric pattern inspired by the colors and interlocking circles of Frank Stella’s Protractor Series.

Geometry and Poetry

Frank Stella’s Raqqa II captures the artist’s attention to form and its relationship to purpose. While first glance may give the perception of childlike simplicity, his form uses geometry and a strict set of procedures to create a system of seven shaped and framed units that are explicitly separate yet connected by the repetition of shape and color.

To celebrate Raqqa II and to highlight Stella’s focus on the relationship between form and purpose, we are pairing it with the poem “Order” by Randall Mann. “Order” presents 10 stanzas that rely upon repetition and the reordering of lines. Mann also uses the poetic device of enjambment, the continuation of a sentence across lines or stanzas without anticipated punctuation or pause. Thus, Mann’s 10 stanzas are separate but connected with purpose, just as Stella’s seven discrete units are systematically separate, but connected. See a fuller discussion on NCMALearn.

Are you interested in expressing your creativity and exploring the relationship between form and purpose? We invite you to write a poem that uses enjambment across stanzas, creating the same contrast between the separate and connected that we see in Raqqa II and “Order.” Share your poems on social media and tag #ncartmuseum.–Katherine White, Deputy Director


Jul 17, 2020


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