The Phillips Collection celebrates Ellsworth Kelly at age 90 with recent multi-panel works

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The Phillips Collection celebrates Ellsworth Kelly at age 90 with recent multi-panel works
Paintings by artist Ellsworth Kelly are seen during an exhibition preview at The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC. The exhibition, 'Ellsworth Kelly: Panel Paintings 2004-2009' will be on display from June 22-September 22, 2013. Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP.

WASHINGTON, DC.- This summer, The Phillips Collection presents its first exhibition of works by acclaimed American painter, sculptor, and printmaker Ellsworth Kelly (b. 1923). Panel Paintings 2004–2009 features seven works consisting of two to four canvases of solid color. Coinciding with the artist’s 90th birthday year, Ellsworth Kelly: Panel Paintings 2004–2009 is on view from June 22 through Sept. 22, 2013.

With a prolific career spanning over 60 years, Ellsworth Kelly is internationally renowned for his explorations of form, color, and space. Created between 2004 and 2009, the multi-panel works in the exhibition were selected specifically for the Phillips by the artist in consultation with Phillips Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Vesela Sretenović. The large-scale rectilinear works that blur the boundaries between painting and sculpture seem to hover on the wall, playing with light and shadow and dramatically engaging with space.

“The Phillips is honored to show the works of one of the most important artists of the 20th century whose creative genius continues to influence the art world today. Ellsworth Kelly’s legacy aligns with founder Duncan Phillips’s collecting philosophy—combining great art historical sources with contemporary ideas to push the boundaries of artistic innovation,” says Phillips Director Dorothy Kosinski.

Kelly’s monochromatic paintings are abstracted reflections of his immediate surroundings. The artist’s focus on color and shape developed in the late 1940s when he was in Paris, immersed in the city’s historic art and architecture while interacting with modern art pioneers including Constantin Brancusi and Alexander Calder. Inspiration for Kelly’s panel paintings ranges from Romanesque and Byzantine art and Parisian 20th-century architecture to Henri Matisse’s cutouts and Jean Arp’s collages. Painted with oil on canvas, each work offers a precise geometric configuration that balances color, positive and negative space, and the relationship of work to wall. The layering of shapes accentuates the sculptural quality, and the intense colors—from brilliant yellow to velvety black—make the works appear to vibrate.

Although often aligned with color field and minimalist painting, Kelly never adhered to a specific movement. From 1948 through 1954 he lived in Paris, where he was influenced by both classical art history and European modernists including Pablo Picasso and Paul Cézanne. By 1949 he abandoned figuration and easel painting and adopted abstraction, first by experimenting with collages and eventually by developing his signature vocabulary of simple geometric shapes in a spectrum of colors.

He settled in New York in 1954 during the heyday of abstract expressionism but was not interested in the movement’s gestural and expressive language. Similar to Pop artists such as Jasper Johns and James Rosenquist, he wanted to present the painting as an independent object, free of brush marks and content. In the late 1950s and the early 1960s, Kelly was among the first artists to discard the conventional square or rectangular painting format and create irregularly shaped canvases.

Throughout his career, Kelly has also produced outline drawings of figures and plants, lithographs with striking color combinations, and shallow wood, steel, and bronze sculptures that appear almost two-dimensional. The Phillips Collection commissioned Kelly to create a site-specific sculpture for the museum’s Hunter Courtyard, opened in 2006. Mounted at an angle, Untitled is a large-scale bronze curve, floating weightlessly on the courtyard’s west wall.

Today's News

June 22, 2013

The Phillips Collection celebrates Ellsworth Kelly at age 90 with recent multi-panel works

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