Understanding Stella: The Alsace-Lorraine series

Here's how the artist's first proper sculptural series embodied one of the world's great struggles
Toul (1992) by Frank Stella, from his Alsace-Lorraine series
Toul (1992) by Frank Stella, from his Alsace-Lorraine series

Frank Stella is commonly described as a painter, though an awful lot of his work created over the past two decades has occupied three dimensions, as curator Kate Nesin explains in our excellent new book on the artist.

When did Stella make the jump between two and three dimensions? Nesin dates it to 1992, with his series Alsace-Lorraine. "In 1992 Stella displayed nearly three dozen freestanding works in steel and bronze, assembled from found as well as intentionally cast parts," writes Nesin. "They were grouped as the ‘Alsace-Lorraine’ series, each titled after a different town in that industrial region where France borders Germany."


Creutzwald (1992) by Frank Stella
Creutzwald (1992) by Frank Stella

History scholars will be familiar with that part of the world; it was annexed by Germany in the late 19th century, and fought over during the First World War and the Second World War, as French and German leaders attempted to lay claim to the area's rich iron and coal deposits, justifying their campaigns partly on cultural grounds – there are both native French and German speakers in these parts. 

So, there's real, physical, globally important stuff at stake here, yet it's also an imagined, cultural struggle – the perfect subject for this rugged metallic series, as it turns out. 

Nesin explains that works were also "the first works for which Stella attempted to produce physically, at the time by casting, three-dimensional forms modelled and manipulated virtually, by computer."


Frank Stella
Frank Stella

"The coincidence of these two firsts cannot but be significant. If Stella crossed into sculpture’s realm in 1992, one of his methods of crossing no longer required painting and sculpture to share the boundary; the threshold was instead between virtual and real space, between visualization and substantiation. Considered thus, Stella’s works are physical realizations, manifestations, more than they are either paintings or sculptures."

The works are abstract, drafted out digitally, yet these very real lumps of metal make reference to very real places, where these types of metals originate.

Nesin's essay is called 'So what are you made of? And where do you come from?', posing quite neatly some key sculptural considerations – ones that Frank Stella's Alsace-Lorraine works, as abstract works, physical manifestations and chunky world-history study aids, raise also.


Frank Stella

For more on these paintings and many others order a copy of our new Frank Stella book, part of our Contemporary Artist series. And you can catch some great Frank Stella work at these exhibitions: New York, NY, Loretta Howard Gallery, Racers: Larry Poons and Frank Stella until February 10. Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern Block Museum of Art, Experiments in Form: Sam Gilliam, Alan Shields and Frank Stella, until June 24, Fort Lauderdale, FL, NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, Frank Stella: Experiment and Change, until July 1, 2018 and Tuttlingen, Germany, Galerie der Stadt Tuttlingen, Frank Stella Prints (title tbd), October 6 – November 25, 2018. Meanwhile, on Friday, February 9 there is ‘An Evening with Frank Stella’ at the University of Houston. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Euphonia there will be a discussion between Frank, Rick Lowe and Alison de Lima Green.

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