Published: November 20, 2007
The Maja Oeri and Hans Bodenmann Gallery, fourth floor of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), will be devoted to 13 paintings and drawings by Ellsworth Kelly (b 1923) in an exhibition, “Focus: Ellsworth Kelly.” Three of the paintings will be on view for the first time and are recent acquisitions: “Relief with Blue,” 1950, a gift from Donald L. Bryant, Jr, a museum trustee; “Dominican,” 1952, a gift from the artist; and “Two Whites,” 1959, a gift from James and Kathy Goodman.
In addition to these pivotal works from the 1950s, the gallery will feature a major work from the 1980s, “Three Panels: Orange, Dark Gray, Green,” 1986. Composed of three shaped canvases, it spans 34 feet of the gallery wall. Over the past five decades, Kelly has redefined abstraction by examining the shapes and colors found in natural and manufactured forms, producing a visually and philosophically sophisticated body of work.
Although Kelly has been associated with Minimalism and Color Field painting, his artistic development occurred independently of these influences in Paris, where he studied on the GI bill after serving in World War II. Kelly’s paintings and sculptures appear to be hard-edged abstractions, but they are, in fact, inspired by organic and architectural forms, and his work has long included naturalistic outline drawings of foliage and flowers.
Unlike the Abstract Expressionists who preceded him, Kelly is an artist whose work is premeditated and planned, and he strives for flat, unmodulated areas of saturated color and the elimination of his own personal mark.
Printmaking has been an important part of Kelly’s oeuvre since the 1960s. Working primarily in lithography at Gemini GEL in Los Angeles and at the workshop of Kenneth Tyler, formerly master printer and co-founder of Gemini, he has completed approximately 300 editions. Kelly’s collaborations with Tyler include the highly experimental series “Colored Paper Images.” The 23 works in this series were created by ladling colored paper pulp into plastic and metal forms and then applying the pressure of the printing press to fuse the colored pulp to a wet sheet of paper. These prints retain the basic characteristics of Kelly’s work: his vocabulary of geometric shapes, curves, and arcs, and his brilliant color.
This project, however, also marks a departure for the artist in that the bleed of the wet paper pulp prevents the shapes from achieving a clean edge, while the tactile texture of the handmade paper and pulp introduces a new variability of surface. Further, the unpredictable nature of the materials allows chance to enter into Kelly’s highly controlled working process. The result is significant variations between impressions within each edition.
This Focus series exhibition will be on view until January 7; it was organized by Elizabeth Reede, assistant curator, department of painting and sculpture at MoMA.
The Museum of Modern Art is at 11 West 53 Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. For information, 212-708-9400 or www.moma.org.
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