The long haul: Ellsworth Kelly

Ever since I saw his 1996 Guggenheim retrospective, I’ve been too much of a fan(atic) to objectively review Ellsworth Kelly’s work–it’s been so important to me over the years. On Thursday night I stopped by the opening of his new show at Matthew Marks, where I finally got to meet the man. Dressed in a navy suit, checked blue-and-white shirt, and dark tie, Mr. Kelly, 87 years old, cheerfully greeted well-wishers, friends, and admirers. This new exhibition, which sprawls over three Chelsea spaces, features thirteen new paintings, a sculpture, and twenty forceful small works-on-paper made between 1954 and 1959 that testify to the maestro’s lifelong commitment to his early minimalist vision.

[UPDATE (December 28,
2016): Ellsworth Kelly died yesterday at his  home in Spencertown, New
York. He was 92 years old. Read Holland Cotter’s excellent obituary in the NYTimes.]
[Image at top: Ellsworth Kelly, Gray Curve Relief, 2010, oil on canvas, two joined panels, 80 1/8 x 52 3/4 inches.]

Ellsworth Kelly, White Curve Relief, 2010, oil on canvas, two joined panels, 75 1/4 x 58 3/4″

Ellsworth Kelly, Red Curve Relief, 2010, oil on canvas, two joined panels, 70 1/8 x 74″

Ellsworth Kelly, Black Curve Diagonal, 2010, oil on canvas, two joined panels, 40 3/4 x 120 1/8″

The highlight of my day was telling Mr. Kelly how much I admire his work.

In each of the large-scale reliefs, Kelly starts with a rectangular canvas painted with layer upon layer of white to get that signature Ellsworth Kelly flatness. Then, a shaped canvas (painted deep black in all but three works) is laid over the rectangular base. Many of the paintings employ an angular shape as the foremost component, but I’m particularly drawn to the curved reliefs, some of which employ odd, not-quite ellipses that might allude to an empty road or the human body.

Ellsworth Kelly: Reliefs 2009-2010,” Matthew Marks, New York, NY. Through April 16, 2011.

“Ellsworth Kelly: Black and White Drawings,” Matthew Marks, New York, NY. Through April 9, 2011.
NOTE: This post was originally published on Febrauary 13, 2011.

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  1. I saw the show at the Guggenheim and it was so revelatory particularly in referencing his sources-bridges, etc. Thank you for this review. He is a terrific painter.

  2. I love what Mr. Kelly has done for painting as object. I am inspired by his work daily, a true Master! I only wish he would let a "little guy" like me interview him? thanks for the post!

  3. great work, think im a fan now

  4. thanks for this post – i was so glad i caught this show. unbelievable commitment, nuance, energy

  5. i see your point about the curves, but i prefer the straight lines because they seem to create more tension with the enclosing rectangle of the "background" canvas. old story I guess, and it seems dumb when verbalized, but it feels amazing when you're standing there.
    It's almost like he's realizing a desire in2d composition, that the elements actually detach and float.

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