“The most pleasurable thing in the world,” Ellsworth Kelly once remarked, “is to see something, and then to translate how I see it.” Born in 1923 in Newburgh, New York, Kelly had a unique vision fueled by his observations of the things around him. He took the things he noticed—from a bird outside his window to the shadow cast by a balcony—and used them as inspiration for abstract paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, and even buildings. Over his seven-decade career, Kelly committed himself to studying line, form, and color, transforming some of the key concepts and conventions of modern art. For Kelly, careful looking was integral to understanding his work and artistic process. In one of the last interviews he gave before his death in 2015, he said, “I think my pictures need time. I like to leave my paintings to be mysterious…. I feel like they have to be looked at; they have to be investigated.”
In addition to showcasing the paintings Spectrum IV (1967) and Chatham VI (1971), this exhibition provides the rare chance to see Sculpture for a Large Wall, which Kelly made for the lobby of Philadelphia’s Transportation Building in 1957. It features 104 quadrilateral aluminum panels suspended between double rows of horizontal rods, which allow each panel to be positioned upright or tilted at an angle. It was created nearly a decade into Kelly’s career, when the artist had begun to dream of making work that functioned at the intersection of art and architecture. MoMA’s celebration of Kelly’s centennial continues in Gallery 416: Ellsworth Kelly’s Sketchbooks, which highlights the artist’s process on paper.
Organized by Ann Temkin, The Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture, with Lydia Mullin, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Painting and Sculpture.