Heads or Tails

Frank Stella


Tang Building (Bldg. E51), lobby

An acrylic and enamel work on aluminum, Heads or Tails is one of a series of 138 designs inspired by Herman Melville’s classic, Moby Dick. Each of the pieces in the series corresponds to a chapter in the novel; Heads or Tails corresponds to Chapter 90, in which Melville describes the head and tail of the great whale.

While one of the three main pieces of the work is obviously a tail-like shape, the other forms, mounted higher, are more abstract. “These two pieces are not literal equivalents, but each is made to function as a whale’s head,” Professor Robert K. Wallace wrote. He cautions the viewer against making a strict connection between the forms and the descriptions in the novel: “Stella invites us to make our own association with the pieces.” The artist has completed more than 137 works in the Moby Dick series since 1985, intending to honor the 150th anniversary of the book’s publication.

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Frank Stella




Wall relief


Acrylic and enamel on aluminum


134 in. x 104 in. x 38.5 in. (340.36 cm x 264.16 cm x 97.79 cm)


Gift of Elliot K. Wolk, MIT Class of 1957