- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 27, 2001

Frank Stella's mammoth "Prince of Homburg" sculpture at the National Gallery of Art is rapidly nearing completion. The museum plans to open the sculpture area to the public Friday. Landscaping is scheduled for completion Dec. 3.

Sculpture fabricators headed by Robert Van Winkle of R.V.W. Sculpture work around the clock six days a week to install the 10-ton work. "Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, Ein Schauspiel, 3X," or "The Prince of Homburg" for short, is Mr. Stella's first commissioned outdoor sculpture for a public collection in the United States.

Passersby have to crane their necks to view the sculpture at the corner of the gallery's East Building where Pennsylvania Avenue meets Third Street NW. A wire-mesh fence cordons off the area.

"I think of it as having the drama of a theatrical spectacle," says Mr. Stella, 65. The sculpture refers to a play by the early-19th-century German writer Heinrich von Kleist. It tells the story of a victorious prince leaving a battlefield.

"A battle is a dramatic event that takes on surreal qualities. I wanted the sculpture to reflect the drama and assume the qualities of von Kleist's spectacle in the story. I wanted it flamboyant and cinematic," Mr. Stella says.

The sculptor does not translate the text literally but somewhere in the white swirls the ghost of a prince in white dress uniform with plumed helmet appears. A beach hat inspired the artwork's white Fiberglas spirals. The sculptor calls it "a hat form" and says he cut the shape out of foam for the maquette, or model. Shards of smoke rings of black carbon fiber Mr. Stella smokes cigars were created by computer modeling. Banners of jagged steel thrust up at various points.

Three derrick-like stainless steel structures support the whirling sections and anchor them to the ground. "I see the 'Prince of Homburg' forms more as characters in a theater. They're like puppets, and the wires hold them down," he says.

Mr. Stella became interested in German writers while studying German literature at Princeton University. He read works by von Kleist, whom he regards as "a high point in European literature," and recently came across some of his writing again. The German also inspired some other recent Stella works.

The National Gallery originally planned the piece for its Sculpture Garden. "We considered his work from the very beginning of the genesis of the garden. We have his paintings and drawings, and in the last 10 years he'd gotten into sculpture in a big way," gallery director Earl A. "Rusty" Powell III says.

Mr. Powell visited Mr. Stella at his sculpture studio in Newburg, N.Y., along with Marla Prather, then-curator of modern and contemporary art at the National Gallery, and Calvin Cafritz, president of the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation. "We looked at various pieces, but the garden was not progressing as quickly as planned. We asked him to get in touch with us when he had something that would interest us," Mr. Powell says.

The sculptor called two years ago and asked them to see the "Prince of Homburg" maquette. The gallery commissioned the work, now planned in the area next to the East Building, and the Cafritz Foundation underwrote it.

Mr. Stella first made his reputation in the late 1950s with flattened geometric images that helped inspire the minimal and conceptual art movements. Considered one of America's best abstract painters, he later enlarged his paintings for more brilliantly colored, shaped and three-dimensional canvases. It was just a short step from these works to the sculptures of today such as "Prince of Homburg."

The artist emphasizes that he continues to work in other mediums. "I'm still doing cast-metal and canvas paintings. In the end, architecture, sculpture, painting and printmaking are all the same. Of course when I start something new like large outdoor sculpture, it's hard," he says. Critics credit him with freeing painting from the wall.

Mr. Stella made "Prince" of the nontraditional, light materials of aluminum, stainless steel, white paint on Fiberglas and carbon fiber. His materials and conceptual design give the work a buoyant, dancing appearance.

Mr. Powell admires the artist for his adventurousness. "Frank is one of the most creative and energetic talents working today. 'Prince of Homburg' is a lyrical piece that floats. Light glances off the white fiberglass. This is tough stuff. He's represented in our collection in all phases of his career as he should be," the National Gallery director says.

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