The Stella Project

In 1984, architect Harry Seidler commissioned the American abstract painter Frank Stella to imagine three large scale sculptural paintings for the foyer of the newly designed Grosvenor Place building in George St, Sydney. The artworks from Stella’s Cones and Pillars (1984-87) series are monumental in scale, they are part-painting and part-sculpture.


Harry Seidler, 1984

“I think these three works of Stella¹s are utterly unfathomable. You don¹t know where one element starts and the other goes. Stella is an amazing man because he is so completely of our time. He¹s impatient, constantly changing, he moves from one thing to another, doing the utterly unpredictable. What fascinates me about his work is the implied visual impossibility of what he does.”
* Reproduced from a 2012 interview with Frank Stella from the book ‘Harry Seidler LifeWork’ by Vladimir Belogolovsky, 2014

The paintings travelled by ship from New York to Sydney in a sealed metal container, but when unpacked were found to have suffered serious damage. Moisture had penetrated some of the packing cases, resulting in mould damage, corrosion of some of the metal panels, and the occurrence of metal salts between the paint layers and the metal supports.

Conservator Andrew Durham of the National Gallery of Australia was called upon to head up the restoration of the three artworks. This involved replacing the affected aluminium and magnesium support panels, mechanically removing and cleaning the metal salts, re-adhering the areas of damaged paint, and cleaning the paintings of mould. This initial restoration saved the paintings from near destruction and allowed them to be installed in their prime position at the opening of the Grosvenor Place foyer.

In the now 30 years since the paintings were first installed, they have begun to exhibit the effects of time and their environment. There is a heavy build up of dust, grime and pollutants due to being situated on busy George St and close to Circular Quay. There are areas of flaking and bubbling paint that require stabilisation, and some of the old restorations need revision. 

David Stein & Co have been contracted to undertake the conservation of the these important paintings as a modern-day heritage project. As the paintings were installed before the building was completed, it is not possible to de-install the component pieces for transport to our conservation workshop. In discussions with Grosvenor Place Management, the decision was made to carry out all work in situ with help of scaffolding to reach the panels that are up to 7 metres in height.

The conservation project will unfold over 3 months from July to October 2017. It will involve consultation with specialist Andrew Durham and the efforts our highly skilled and motivated team of 'Stella' conservators.

Watch this space for more updates as The Stella Project unfolds.

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