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100 Highlights
of the MFAH
Take a tour through some of the most significant objects in the MFAH collections. On these pages, you can browse 100 highlights from collections throughout the institution. Then visit the Museum in person to discover your own favorites.
© 2010 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
American, born 1936
Damascus Gate (Stretch Variation III)
Alkyd on canvas

120 x 600 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Alice Pratt Brown

Arts of North America

Frank Stella approaches a painting as a physical object in its own right, not a representation of something else. In 1967, Stella—already celebrated for his reductive compositions and shaped canvases—launched the Protractor series, which culminated in Damascus Gate (Stretch Variation III).

These paintings grew out of Stella’s fascination with Islamic art and patterns of decoration, an interest that had been fostered during visits to Spain and Morocco in 1961 and Iran in 1963. On the latter trip he began to draw up a list of cities that would become the titles of the Protractor series. Stella limited the series to three patterns of decoration found in Islamic art: interlaces, rainbows, and fans. At the same time, he reduced these patterns to their essential, boldest forms, increasing the scale of his work so that his paintings assumed the physical proportions of architecture.

Damascus Gate highlights a decisive moment in the artist’s ongoing project to test the limits of painting. Stretching across a 50-foot expanse, it fulfilled the artist’s ambition to take his work up to a truly monumental scale. Its radiant "fans" dance across the surface, while the black borders and curved frame punch into the viewing space.