“I think what we all want from art is a sense of fixity, a sense of opposing the chaos of daily living. This is an illusion, of course. What I’ve tried to capture is the reality of flux, to keep art an open, incomplete situation, to get at the rapture of seeing.”
Ellsworth Kelly redefined the terms of abstraction in postwar America. As a painter, sculptor, and printmaker, he developed a distinctive style informed by shapes drawn from nature, the geometries and vibrant hues of European abstraction, and Surrealism’s automatic procedures. For seven decades, he distilled mundane objects and experiences into irreducible forms, generating quiet, dynamic perceptual experiences.
Born in Newburgh, New York, Kelly began as a child to birdwatch, a lifelong activity that would shape his observational precision. He studied applied arts at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn before volunteering to serve in the Second World War (1943–45). On the GI Bill, he enrolled at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (1946) and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris (1948). He remained in Paris for seven years, meeting Constantin Brancusi, Jean Arp, and Alexander Calder and finding influence in their engagements with non-compositional strategies and refined forms. He began drawing plants and aimed to remove self-expression from his paintings, turning to abstraction inspired by patterns observed in the real world—sidewalk grates, pipes, windows, and architectural forms. Throughout his life, he returned to this lexicon of shapes, realizing them in multiple media. In 1951, he mounted his first solo exhibition at Galerie Arnaud in Paris, and in 1956 he opened his first New York solo exhibition at Betty Parsons Gallery. That year, with Robert Indiana, he moved into a loft in lower Manhattan’s Coenties Slip, which became an epicenter of innovation in postwar American art. There, he executed his first wood reliefs, works in metal, and painting-sculpture hybrids, including shaped canvases. In 1970, he began a long-lasting print collaboration with Gemini GEL Los Angeles and moved to a farmhouse in Spencertown, New York, where he began creating large outdoor sculptures.
During his lifetime, Kelly participated in such seminal exhibitions as Sixteen Americans, Museum of Modern Art, New York (1959); Primary Structures, Jewish Museum, New York (1966); Systemic Painting, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1966); and Expo 67, Montreal (1967). Major traveling retrospectives dedicated to his work have been organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1973); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1979); and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1996), among others. His work was included in multiple iterations of Documenta, Kassel (1964, 1968, 1977, 1992) and the Venice Biennale (1966, 2007). His numerous awards include the French government’s Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres (2001) and Officier de la Legion d’Honneur (2009). He received the Praemium Imperiale for Painting by the Japan Arts Association in 2000, and the National Medal of Arts from President Obama in 2013. In 2015, the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas, realized his 1986 design for a non-denominational chapel.
- Calder / Kelly
- Lévy Gorvy, New York
November 9, 2018 - January 9, 2019
Calder / Kelly (2018–19) was the first major exhibition to explore the visual and personal affinities between landmark American artists Alexander Calder and Ellsworth Kelly. Presented at Lévy Gorvy in collaboration with the Calder Foundation and Ellsworth Kelly Studio, the exhibition was a discourse between generations that celebrated their friendship and extraordinary experiences as Americans shaped by significant periods spent living in Paris.
In Calder / Kelly, a dynamic exchange between two virtuosic talents took shape. The exhibition comprised approximately three d...Read More