Ellsworth Kelly, American (1923 - 2015)

Minimalist painter and sculptor, Ellsworth Kelly explains, "By removing the content from my work I shifted the visual reality of painting to include the space around it." Kelly was born May 31, 1923 in Newburgh, New York. He studied at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, from 1941 to 1943. After military service from 1943 to 1945, he attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from 1946 to 1947.

Kelly studied art in Paris from 1948 to 1954, when post-war Paris was the home of European Abstraction and the avant-garde. He enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris under the G.I. Bill, although he attended classes infrequently. In France, he discovered Romanesque art and architecture and Byzantine art. He was also introduced to Surrealism [more] and Neo-Plasticism, which led him to experiment with automatic drawing and geometric abstraction.

In 1950, Kelly met Jean Arp and that same year began to make shaped-wood reliefs and collages in which elements were arranged according to the laws of chance. He soon began to make paintings in separate panels that can be recombined to produce alternate compositions, as well as multi-panel paintings in which each canvas is painted a single color. During the 1950s, he traveled throughout France, where he socialized with Constantin Brancusi, Alexander Calder, Alberto Magnelli, Francis Picabia, Georges Braque, Alberto Giacometti, Joan Miro and Georges Vantongerloo , among other artists. His first solo show took place at the Galerie Arnaud, Paris, in 1951.

After six formative years in Paris, Kelly returned to the United States in 1954, living first in a studio apartment on Broad Street, and then at Coenties Slip in lower Manhattan, where his neighbors included Robert Indiana, Agnes Martin, Fred Mitchell, James Rosenquist, Lenore Tawney, and Jack Youngerman. At this time he "used his canvases to explore the concept of spectral color and expressed his fascination with the resonance of color."

His first solo show in New York was held at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1956, and three years later he was included in Sixteen Americans at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 1958, he also began to make freestanding sculptures. He moved out of Manhattan in 1970, set up a studio in Chatham, and a home in nearby Spencertown, New York.

Kelly's first retrospective was held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1973. The following year, Kelly began an ongoing series of totemic sculptures in steel and aluminum. He traveled throughout Spain, Italy, and France in 1977, when his work was included in Documenta in Kassel. He has executed many public commissions, including a mural for UNESCO in Paris in 1969, sculpture for the city of Barcelona in 1978, and a memorial for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C., in 1993. Kelly's extensive work has been recognized in numerous retrospective exhibitions, including a sculpture exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in 1982; an exhibition of works on paper and a show of his print works that traveled extensively in the United States and Canada from 198788; and a career retrospective in 1996 organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, which traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Tate Gallery, London; and the Haus der Kunst, Munich. Kelly lives in Spencertown, New York.




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1923 Born: Newburgh, New York
1941 - 1942 Studied Applied Arts at the Pratt Institute, New York
1946 - 1948 Diploma Program at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, drawing and painting classes with Carl Zerbe
1948 Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris; travelled to see the Isenheimer Altarpiece in Colmar
1973 The Painting Prize from the Art Institute of Chicago
1988 Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Republic
1993 Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by the French Republic at the French Embassy in Washington DC
2000 Praemium Imperiale for Painting
2002 Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres by the French Republic
Selected Exhibitions
2004 Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie, Das MoMA in Berlin
2003 Bremen, Neues Museum Weserburg, Die Fondation Maeght
2003 Warsaw, Schloss Ujazdowski, Zentrum für Zeitgenössische Kunst, Von Picasso bis Warhol
2003 New York, Whitney Museum, Ellsworth Kelly (solo)
2003 New York, Matthew Marks Gallery, Sculpture (solo)
2002 Ellsworth Kelly, Tablet: 1948–1973, The Drawing Center, New York, NY
2002 Basel, Fondation Beyeler, ELLSWORTH KELLY Werke 1956-2002 (solo)
2001 New York, Matthew Marks Gallery (solo)
1999 New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Ellsworth Kelly – Sculpture for a Large Wall (solo)
1999 New York, Mitchell-Innes & Nash Gallery, Ellsworth Kelly: Five Decades of Line, Form and Colour (solo)
1999 Bonn, Kunstmuseum (solo)
1999 Munich, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus (solo)
1999 Chicago, Art Institute (solo)
1999 Ellsworth Kelly: Works on Paper 1948-1955, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Boston, MA
1998 New York, Matthew Marks, Ellsworth Kelly. New Paintings (solo)
1998 Los Angeles, New York, Munich, Retrospectives (solo)
1996 New York, Guggenheim Museum, Ellsworth Kelly. A Retrospective (solo)
1996 Ellsworth Kelly on the Roof, Cantor Roof Garden, Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, NY
1993 New Displays: Ellsworth Kelly, Tate Gallery London
1989 Chicago, Art Institute, Ellsworth Kelly: Courtyard Installation (solo)
1987 Ellsworth Kelly: Works on Paper, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, MA
1987 Ellsworth Kelly: A Print Retrospective, The Detroit Institute of Arts Detroit, MI
1982 Ellsworth Kelly: Sculpture, Whitney Museum of American Art New York, NY (solo)
1979 XXXVI Washington, DC, Corcoran Gallery of Art, 36th Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting together with Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg
1979 New York, Leo Castelli Gallery (solo)
1979 Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Ellsworth Kelly: Painting and Sculpture (solo)
1979 New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ellsworth Kelly Recent Paintings and Sculpture (solo)
1973 New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, Ellsworth Kelly. Curved Series (solo)
1973 New York, MoMA, Retrospective (solo)
1968 New York, MoMA, The Art of the Real, USA 1948-1968
1966 American Pavilion, XXXIII Venice Biennale
1965 New York, Sidney Janis Gallery (solo)
1964 Paris, Galerie Maeght (solo)
1963 Washington DC, Gallery of Modern Art, Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings by Ellsworth Kelly (solo)
1959 Sixteen Americans, Museum of Modern Art New York, NY
1958 Paris, Galerie Maeght (solo)
1957 New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Young America 1957
1956 New York, Betty Parsons Gallery (solo)
1951 Paris, Galerie Arnaud (solo)
1947 Boston, Boris Mirski Art Gallery


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