ELLSWORTH KELLY: SCULPTURE ON THE WALL
MAY 4 – SEPTEMBER 2, 2013
Exhibition Marks the Return of Kelly’s Landmark Sculpture for a Large Wall to Philadelphia Through Major Loan from The Museum of Modern Art
Exhibition Press Preview on Tuesday, April 30, from noon until 3 pm
Philadelphia, PA, April 5, 2012 — This spring, to commemorate its first anniversary in Philadelphia, the Barnes Foundation presents its first contemporary art exhibition in 90 years with a display of wall sculptures by Ellsworth Kelly, who celebrates his 90th birthday in May. On view in the Aileen and Brian Roberts Gallery from May 4 through September 2, 2013, the presentation gathers major sculptures by Ellsworth Kelly, including Sculpture for a Large Wall (1956–1957), on loan from The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in addition to four large sculptures and three studies from other collections.
“From Sculpture for a Large Wall, a manifesto work from the 1950s, to the present, Ellsworth Kelly has continuously and innovatively explored the relationships between painting, sculpture, and architecture,” notes Judith F. Dolkart, Barnes Foundation deputy director of art and archival collections and Gund Family Chief Curator. “It will be revelatory to see Sculpture for a Large Wall in the Roberts Gallery, where it ‘meets the eye—direct,’ an aspiration Kelly enunciated for his works to composer John Cage.”
Composed of 104 anodized aluminum panels, the monumental Sculpture for a Large Wall commands the longest wall of the Roberts gallery, with its rhythmic play of color, form, and light, as well as positive and negative space.
Commissioned in 1956 for Penn Center’s Philadelphia Transportation Building, the work was removed in 1998 when the building underwent renovation and is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Sculpture for a Large Wall returns to Philadelphia for the first time on the occasion of this exhibition.
“In several ways, this exhibition complements and illuminates the Barnes collection and honors Albert C. Barnes’s commitment to contemporary art. Ellsworth Kelly was born the same year that Barnes introduced modern art to Philadelphia, and Kelly’s career spans the last years of Barnes’s collecting practice to the present day,” Derek Gillman, executive director and president of the Barnes Foundation stated. “We are excited to initiate our program of contemporary exhibitions with a presentation of works by Ellsworth Kelly, a renowned modern master whose oeuvre is intensely focused on line, form, and color, the visual elements that were key to Barnes’s aesthetic theories.”
Ellsworth Kelly has long noted his interest in European modernists such as Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso—painters whose works he studied during his years in Paris and New York, and who are also at the core of the Barnes Foundation’s holdings. The powerful wall sculptures in the Barnes Foundation exhibition explore the intersections of art and architecture, form and color, light and shadow, figure and ground, long celebrated in Kelly’s work.
Explaining his emerging style to composer John Cage in 1950, Kelly wrote, “[My] collages are only ideas for things much larger—things to cover walls…. I am not interested in painting as it has been accepted for so long—to hang on the walls of houses as pictures… They should be the wall—even better—on the outside wall—of large buildings.”
Kelly makes no distinction between his paintings and wall sculptures, and the relationship of work to wall and wall to floor is at the heart of his insistently two-dimensional work, whether on canvas or in metal or wood, straight-edged or curvilinear.
Kelly’s abstract work is the expression of interests in line, form, and color that have remained consistent throughout his career. Black White Black (2006), for example, may be traced back half a century to White and Two Blacks (1953), a triptych of equally sized canvases, one of his earliest experiments with the wall. In it, Kelly placed a white panel between two black ones—the black appearing to compress the white. In the 2006 sculpture, almost three times the size of the earlier work, the central white panel, dominant in size and power, seems to push its neighbors away, isolating them against the white wall.
Although Kelly’s work suggests platonic perfection, his abstractions derive from his observations of the real world, natural and man-made. Sketches and collages that he has kept for decades may be points of departure for recent work. Black Form I (2011) seems to reprise a drawing of a white U-shape on a square blue ground that Kelly made in the 1960s. In the 2011 work, the U is rotated ninety degrees to the right and painted black. A flattened sno cone wrapper may be a source of fan-shaped canvases and sculptures in aluminum, bronze, and wood, such as Red Curve (1986) that Kelly has made over the decades. The soaring pitch of Two Curves (2012) suggests Kelly’s long-standing interest in birds and the prints of John James Audubon. Kelly has remarked on the abstract figure-ground relationships in Audubon’s work and on the naturalist’s use of collage in planning his images.
Barnes and Kelly
Although the restraint associated with the installation of Kelly’s immaculate work may seem at odds with the crowded, handcrafted ensembles composed by Albert C. Barnes, recognition of the wall’s possibilities as a field of formal and creative endeavor is common to artist and collector, as is an interest in the relationship of work to wall, object to object, and part to whole. Barnes used his wall installations of paintings, wrought iron, furniture, Native American jewelry, and African sculpture to demonstrate the form, light, line, color, and space that Kelly’s wall art distills.
A fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by Judith F. Dolkart accompanies the exhibition.
All cataloguing information for works by Ellsworth Kelly was provided by the artist’s studio.
A monumental work by Kelly, the 40-foot-high Barnes Totem (2012), was commissioned through the generosity of the Neubauer Family Foundation and is permanently installed on the park-like grounds of the Barnes in Philadelphia, on a site selected by the artist and the building’s architects, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.
The Barnes has organized a series of special programs for the public in conjunction with Ellsworth Kelly: Sculpture on the Wall. Learn more
About Ellsworth Kelly
Born in 1923, Ellsworth Kelly began to develop his distinctive approach to abstraction in the late 1940s in Paris, where he studied on the G.I. Bill. In 1954, he returned to the U.S. and continued creating paintings whose abstract forms, contours, and contrasts of line or tone were based on observations of the built environment and the natural world. By the late 1950s, Kelly was also making sculptures, using cut-out forms that he mounted on walls or set outdoors. Working against conventional expectations, he typically made these sculptures so they read as flat, whereas the paintings (often done on shaped supports) seem three-dimensional. In 1970, Kelly left New York City and moved upstate, where he found inspiration in his new rural environment, and where his artistic practice began to include the creation of large-scale outdoor sculptures in metal. Over the years, his sculptures have tended to take either the form of reliefs or of free-standing totems (as at the Barnes Foundation). He has made public commissions for sites and institutions in cities such as New York, Paris, Barcelona, Washington DC, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Houston, and Dallas. Kelly continues to exhibit and work in his studio and has forthcoming exhibitions at Detroit Institute of Arts and the Phillips Collection and a showing of works at MoMA during 2013.
About the Barnes Foundation
The Barnes Foundation was established by Albert C. Barnes in 1922 to "promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts and horticulture." The Barnes holds one of the finest collections of post-impressionist and early modern paintings, with extensive holdings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau, Amedeo Modigliani, Chaim Soutine and Giorgio de Chirico, as well as American masters Charles Demuth, William Glackens, Horace Pippin, and Maurice Prendergast, as well as old master paintings, important examples of African sculpture and Native American ceramics, jewelry and textiles, American paintings and decorative arts, and antiquities from the Mediterranean region and Asia.
The Barnes Foundation's Art and Aesthetics programs engage a diverse array of audiences. These programs, occurring on-site, online, and in Philadelphia communities, advance the mission through progressive, experimental, and interdisciplinary teaching and learning.
In May 2012, the Barnes Foundation opened a new facility on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects. The Philadelphia campus is home to the Foundation’s world-famous art collection and is the site of a new series of temporary exhibitions in its Aileen and Brian Roberts Gallery which respond, relate to, or contextualize the Foundation’s permanent collection.
Ellsworth Kelly: Sculpture on the Wall opens May 4, 2013 and will remain on view through September 2.
The Barnes Arboretum, located at the Merion campus, contains more than 2,000 species/varieties of trees and woody plants, many of them rare. Founded in the 1880s by Joseph Lapsley Wilson and subsequently added to under the direction of Laura L. Barnes, the collection includes a fern-leaf beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Laciniata'), a dove tree (Davidia involucrata), a monkey-puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), and a redwood (Sequoia sempervirens). Other important plant collections include lilacs, peonies, Stewartias, and magnolias. The Horticulture School at the Barnes Foundation in Merion offers a comprehensive, three-year certificate course of study in the botanical sciences, horticultural practices, garden aesthetics, and design through a well-grounded, scientific learning experience since its inauguration in 1940 by Mrs. Barnes. The Barnes Foundation Archives are also located at the Merion campus.
The Barnes Foundation
Jan Rothschild, Senior Vice President for Communications
Andrew Stewart, Director of Public Relations
Images: Ellsworth Kelly (American, b. 1923). Sculpture for a Large Wall, 1956–1957. Anodized aluminum, 104 panels, 11' 5" x 65' 5" x 28" (348 x 1994 x 71.1 cm). Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, 526.1998 © 2012 Ellsworth Kelly.
Ellsworth Kelly (American, b. 1923). Black Form I, 2011. Painted aluminum, 80 x 71 3/4 x 4 1/4 in. (203.2 x 182.2 x 10.8 cm). © Ellsworth Kelly. Photo by Joshua White, courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, Los Angeles