The exhibition focuses on Kelly’s mastery in black and white, and includes rarely-seen drawings, paintings, photographs, and sculptures made in the first and last decade of the artist’s career.
Renowned for his use of bold, monochromatic planes of color, Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) created a fifth of his oeuvre in black and white. Art historian and critic David S. Rubin noted that Kelly is “[…] essentially a color painter who considers black and white to be colors.” This limited, high-contrast palette allows for an increased focus on form and spacial relationships, which “intensifie[s] the abstraction by further removing the image from its natural coloration.”
Organized in intimate mise-en-scènes that focus on individual bodies of works, the exhibition presents 29 pieces that highlight the role of experimentation within Kelly’s practice. FLAG’s south gallery is solely dedicated to plein air drawings from 2005, which capture the dramatic rock formations of Belle-Île, an island off the northwest coast of France. This suite of landscape drawings points to an improbable synchronicity between Kelly and Claude Monet (1840-1926), who made numerous paintings of the region’s dramatic coastline. These drawings are complimented by a series of photographs from 1950, on the corridor wall. Shot on a borrowed Leica camera in Meschers, France, the photographs explore the interplay of light, shadow, and pattern on stacks of bricks, beach cabanas, local vegetation, and architectural fragments.
FLAG’s north gallery features three small studies from 1959 (York Study, Slip Study, and Falcon Study), each of which is marked by jagged-edge, curvilinear forms—compositions that portend Kelly’s later, relief paintings Two Blacks and White, 1993, Black Relief with White, 2005, and White Diagonal Relief, 2006, also on view. A painted aluminum model for the artist’s final sculpture Double Curves, 2015, explores the “interaction and interdependence” of positive and negative space, while simultaneously creates the illusion of another iconic Kelly shape: the totem. Directly across the room, White Plaque: Bridge Arch and Reflection II, 2011, renders a negative space and its reflection into a physical form. Site-specificity is an unlikely concept when considering Kelly’s practice; yet time and again, the artist would return to certain locations to capture details of that place: an iron gate in Paris (Gate-Board, 1950); sunlight through a canopy of leaves (Charmettes II, 1956); and ripples on the Nile River (River II, 2004).
Shear’s eclectic selection of disparate and little-known bodies of artwork emphasizes Kelly’s evolving and experimental creative practice: “Being involved in Ellsworth’s artistic and personal life for 32 years, I have a way of knowing the work differently than anyone else does. What I tried to do with the exhibition is to show the range of Ellsworth’s work and conceptual ideas. I hope to surprise.”
FLAG’s Founder Glenn Fuhrman states, “Kicking off the celebration of FLAG’s 10th anniversary, I’m honored Jack Shear curated this personal tribute to Ellsworth Kelly. My wife Amanda and I have countless happy memories of visiting Jack and Ellsworth in Spencertown, NY, and we were both deeply affected by Ellsworth’s incredible art and the personal moments we shared with him and Jack. Ellsworth’s influence continues to be seen in a new generation of artists. I’m excited to expand on the dialogue with a simultaneous exhibition Painting/Object, on view on FLAG’s 10th floor, which includes new and recent works by Sarah Crowner, N. Dash, Sam Moyer, Julia Rommel, Erin Shirreff.”