Frank Stella | Central Campus

Frank Stella

Loohooloo, 1994

Room-size installation, acrylic on fiberglass


120 in. x 1164 in. x 48 in. (304.8 cm x 2956.56 cm x 121.92 cm)

Gift of Elliot K. Wolk, MIT Class of 1957

Frank Stella came to prominence as a painter in the late 1960s; he became known first for his hard-edged geometric paintings and later for a series of austere black paintings. His work was rigorously formal and Minimalist, insisting on the flatness of the canvas surface. He refused to admit references to the figure or expressive gestures into his painting, and he once said of his work, “What you see is what you see.”

In the 1970s, Stella’s work took a new direction, when his paintings became three-dimensional reliefs with exuberant forms and colors. (An example this period of his work Heads or Tails, 1988, hangs in the Tang Center lobby at the Sloan School). Loohooloo is from 1994, and here Stella has moved to embrace the entire architectural space. The work blurs the boundaries that have traditionally separated painting, sculpture, and architecture, and incorporates aspects of all three. The work is approximately 10 feet high, and it wraps around the walls of the room to a length of 97 feet. The conference room that houses it was specially constructed to the work’s dimensions during the renovation of the School of Architecture and Planning in 1995. The title refers to a fictitious locale in Herman Melville’s novel Omoo. In the novel, fishermen come to the reefs at Loohooloo to spear fish by torchlight, throwing their spears into the foaming waves. The painted surfaces and the continuous curving and undulating surface convey sensations of crashing waves, continuing motion and expansive space. The shapes painted on the fiberglass armature were derived from photographs of smoke rings blown by the artist in his studio, which were then manipulated in a computer. Frank Stella’s Loohooloo came to MIT thru the generosity of alumnus Eliot K. Wolk, MIT Class of 1957, an art collector with a special interest in Stella’s work.

Building Number: 7

Accession Number: 2001.022

Frank Stella

This is Loohooloo, created by Frank Stella in 1994. One of the most influential artists of the 20th century, in the 1960s, he garnered attention for his black paintings, featuring coats of black house paint on canvas, and paved the way for minimalism. Former List public art curator Patricia Fuller--

Then later in the 70s, he began making reliefs, these exuberant assemblages of forms and colors bursting off the wall. The painted surfaces and the continuous curving and undulating surface of Loohooloo conveys sensations to some people of crashing waves, continuous motion, and this mysterious dark space.

In fact, Stella took the title for his work from a fictitious lookout in Herman Melville's novel Omoo, a place where fishermen throw spears into foaming seas. The beveled surface has an equally unusual origin.

Stella is a big cigar smoker. [LAUGHS] The shapes on the fiberglass armature were originally derived from photographs of smoke rings blown by the artist in his studio, then manipulated by computer, and then applied to the armature of sprayed foam. The fact that the armature bellies out almost in the shape of a wave creates a very dynamic surface.

Loohooloo came to MIT in the mid-'90s through the generosity of Sloan School alumnus Eliot Wolk. It was lifted by crane into the conference room at the School of Architecture and Planning, which was undergoing renovations at the time.

I've been told it's the most subscribed conference room on campus.

Commentary about Stella's other work at MIT is available on the List website.