Ellsworth Kelly. Spectrum IX, 2014. © Ellsworth Kelly Foundation


Freeing the form from its context so that it establishes new and definitive relationships with the spaces that surround it was, in the words of Ellsworth Kelly, the objective of much of his production. This artist, a New Yorker in 1923 and still much better known to the American public than to the European public, trained at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn until, in 1943, he had to go as a soldier to World War II. After leaving, he resumed his artistic studies, this time at the Boston School of Fine Arts, and moved, in the fifties, to Paris, where he met the great figures who still worked there, such as Alexander Calder, Picabia and Brancusi. , and also the work of the classic masters of art history, unpublished for him until that moment.

Upon his return to New York, four years later, he would make color the protagonist of his paintings and sculptures: pieces composed, in many cases, by the combination of monochromatic fragments, close to abstraction and lacking narrative discourse. In his career, and in the consideration that we give to his work today, his participation, in 1964, in the exhibition that Clement Greenberg curated, first at LACMA and later in other American museums, under the heading of pictorial abstraction, would be vital: this critic had observed the birth of a new movement, derived from abstract expressionism but which favored openness or clarity in opposition to the dense surfaces of the former, and also linked to the studies on the psychology of forms of the Bauhaus school, which Josef Albers would spread in the United States. Part of that exhibition, along with Kelly, were the painters Sam Francis, Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Keneth Noland and Frank Stella, authors of compositions that did not imply defined content but rather existed on their own: large-format canvases based solely on the use of color, absolutely. We can talk about chromatic zones, rather than specific shapes.

On the occasion of the centenary of his birth – it is also a decade since his death – the Fondation Louis Vuitton has managed to bring Kelly back to Paris: in his first major exhibition in France, organized in collaboration with the Glenstone Museum in Potomac and the Ellsworth Kelly Studio, we will be able to see nearly a hundred paintings and sculptures, drawings, photographs and collages dated over seven decades in which, beyond that affiliation indicated by Greenberg, he remained outside of schools and labels. The visual power of this author is evident, in any case, on a regular basis among the regulars of this institution: his auditorium houses the last work commissioned of him, Spectrum VIII, which extends from the curtain of its stage to the walls of the concert hall and whose red, yellow, blue, green and violet tones dialogue with the architecture of Frank O. Gehry. It has been incorporated into this proposal, accompanied by a documentary that analyzes his creative process and contextualizes the project in his career.

Ellsworth Kelly.  Spectrum IX, 2014. © Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

This exhibition, which occupies both floors of the Foundation (almost 1,500 square meters), reviews the links in his works of form, color, line and space throughout his, as we said, long career: the simplicity of his vocabulary is deceptive; We are faced with often monochromatic and apparently rigid compositions that do not arise from compliance with defined rules, from their fidelity to a system, but from a search for paths that allow us to relate the palette and the areas that color delimits with contemplative hedonism. Sometimes one color completely contains another and the result resembles an image on a background, sometimes derived from a natural form; Other times, it seems that the canvas, despite its large scale, cannot constrain the entire form, arbitrarily cut along its edge, and it will continue in the viewer's mind.

Ellsworth Kelly.  Chatham V: Red Blue, 1971. © Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

On the tour, paintings from his youth will catch our attention, such as Tableau Vert (1952), the first monochrome that Ellsworth Kelly made after visiting Giverny, or Painting in Three Panels (1956), an example of his commitment to architecture; In front of them we will contemplate works belonging to their canonical series ChathamEdit and Spectrumalong with a set of drawings of plants, a motif that greatly inspired him throughout his career, and a collection of rarely exhibited photographs.

Among his latest pieces, he has arrived in Paris Yellow Curve (1990), the first in a series of large-scale floor paintings, which can be seen in a space specially conceived for her, an installation of more than sixty square meters. It is the first time it has been shown to the public in Europe since its creation for an exhibition at Portikus in Frankfurt am Main.

“Ellsworth Kelly. Shapes and Colors, 1949-2015,” which is the name of this exhibition, is part of “Ellsworth Kelly at 100,” a traveling exhibition organized by the Glenstone Museum. The French version pivots precisely around Spectrum VIII and later he will travel, through modifications, to the M7 in Doha, in what will be the first presentation of the American's painting in the Middle East.

Ellsworth Kelly.  Yellow Curve, 1990. © Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

“Ellsworth Kelly. Shapes and Colors, 1949-2015”


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