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Rijksmuseum presents Ellsworth Kelly in the Rijksmuseum Gardens
Ellsworth Kelly, Yellow Blue, 1968. © Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza Art Collection/New York State Office of General Services.

AMSTERDAM.- This summer, two towering arches, each around three storeys tall, stand in the Rijksmuseum Gardens, forming a stark contrast with the familiar brick backdrop of the museum. These immense steel objects are part of the Ellsworth Kelly in the Rijksmuseum Gardens exhibition. Ellsworth Kelly is one of the most important American artists of the second half of the 20th century. The Rijksmuseum is able to present the nine sculptures in this exhibition thanks to a generous loan by the Ellsworth Kelly Studio and New York State Collection. None of the sculptures has ever been exhibited in the Netherlands before.

Admission is free to this exhibition in the Rijksmuseum Gardens which runs from 5 June until 24 October 2021.

Ellsworth Kelly in the Rijksmuseum Gardens

Ellsworth Kelly (Newburgh 1923 – 2015 Spencertown) was inspired by ‘the things he saw’. He distilled his observations to their essence and transformed them into simple, clear-cut surfaces and forms. The exhibition shows his approach on free shapes, through works such as the recumbent Curve I (1973), an abstracted carton cup, and Yellow Blue (1968), a vividly contrasting sculpture directly connected to his multipanel paintings. Several of the works refer to totem poles. The artist himself barely distinguished between painting and sculpture as art forms; in both cases, his focus was on form – ‘In sculpture, the work itself is the form and the ground is the space around it’ he once wrote. The shapes of the sculptures, as well as the colour palettes and materials Kelly used, ensure their crisp, well-defined contours contrast starkly with their surroundings. The artist’s use of intense, counterpoised colours makes each of his sculptures – whether in bronze, corten weathered steel or wood – a crystal-clear visual statement. This exhibition presents a representative overview of the artist’s sculptural work from the 1960s until shortly before his death.

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly is regarded as one of the most important post-war abstract artists. After serving in the Ghost Army in the Second World War, Kelly studied fine arts first in Boston and later Paris where he came through the G.I. Bill and stayed for six years – during his stay, he also visited the Netherlands on several occasions. After returning from Paris to the US in 1954, it would be a few years before he became integrated in the New York art scene. From 1957 onwards his work was acquired by prestigious museums such as the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and in 1973 the first retrospective was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Several Dutch museum collections contain pieces by Ellsworth Kelly, including Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven and the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo.

Sculptures in the Rijksmuseum Gardens

Ellsworth Kelly in the Rijksmuseum Gardens is part of a series of sculpture exhibitions in the Rijksmuseum Gardens that is curated by guest curator Alfred Pacquement, the former director of the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Previous editions of this series were devoted to the work of Henry Moore (2013), Alexander Calder (2014), Joan Miró (2015), Giuseppe Penone (2016), Jean Dubuffet (2017), Eduardo Chillida (2018) and Louise Bourgeois (2019).


The exhibition is accompanied by the catalogue Ellsworth Kelly in the Rijksmuseum Gardens, published in Dutch and English. Written by Alfred Pacquement, it contains a contribution from Carel Blotkamp, Emeritus Professor of Modern Art History at VU Amsterdam, on the relationship between Ellsworth Kelly and the Netherlands. Available from mid-June 2021 from the Rijksmuseum web shop and museum shop, price €15.

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