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VM inspiration: Frank Stella exhibition at the Royal Academy

If a definition of visual merchandising might be that it is completed in order to attract attention, to help promote and sell merchandise and to build a brand, then the giant Frank Stella installation in the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts is visual merchandising, albeit of a more permanent kind than most.

US-born artist Stella created ‘Inflated Star and Wooden Star’ in 2014. Made of teak and patinated aluminum, the piece continues Stella’s 2D and 3D exploration of space. Using digital technology and adopting rapid prototyping, Stella develops a refined version before the actual piece is created, rather in the same way that very considered VM does before installation.

Stella worked initially as a painter, most famously creating black-on-black canvases in the 1950s and ’60s, often using house paint rather than oils. This period was followed by colourful rainbow-like segments of shaped canvases in the late 1960s and ’70s before he began to explore 3D.

Mindful of the requirement of VM to be eye-catching we might consider the juxtaposition of Stella’s selected medium as best showcasing the dialectic between the two materials, much as many VM themes contrast merchandise and props to better enhance qualities of both.

The shiny metal and the matte, unvarnished wood suggest both the man-made and the natural world, although the forms of both elements are variations on the same shape: 3D stars.

Seen against the Grade I listed façade of the Royal Academy, the complex form of the Stella piece advertises the gallery which, concealed by the courtyard entrance facing London’s Piccadilly, remains a lesser-known venue for temporary exhibitions. Seen in its entirety, Stella’s creation is reminiscent of giant Christmas gift-wrapping trimming: think bows and ribbon pompoms. And this is, of course, a perennial VM favourite for Christmas windows.