Ellsworth Kelly. Colors for a Large Wall. 1951

Ellsworth Kelly Colors for a Large Wall 1951

  • MoMA, Floor 4, 406 The David Geffen Galleries

At the time of its production in 1951, Colors for a Large Wall was the largest painting Kelly had ever made. It brings together four strategies fundamental to modernism: the additive composition of similar elements (each square is painted separately), the use of chance (each square is arranged randomly), the idea of the readymade (each color was taken from the French craft paper Kelly used to produce the collage on which the painting is based), and the allover grid of its composition. The result is a painting in which no aspect of its appearance has been determined by the artist’s personal choices.

Gallery label from "Collection 1940s—1970s", 2019

“I have never been interested in painterliness,” Kelly said, using “painterliness” to mean “a very personal handwriting, putting marks on a canvas.” There is no personal handwriting, nor even any marks as such, in Colors for a Large Wall, which comprises sixty-four abutting canvases, each the same size (a fraction under a foot square) and each painted a single color. Not even the colors themselves, or their position in relation to each other, could be called personal; Kelly derived them from commercial colored papers, and their sequence is arbitrary. Kelly made Colors for a Large Wall while living in Paris, where he worked from 1948 to 1954. While there he began introducing elements of chance into his compositions, one of several strategies he deployed to create what he called “anonymous” works. Produced at the height of Abstract Expressionism, this work has that style’s mural scale, and Kelly thought deeply about the relationship of painting to architecture: he saw it as one of figure and ground, with the wall as background and the painting as a figure set upon it. Unlike the Abstract Expressionists, however, Kelly resolutely suppressed the presence of painterly gesture. “I want to eliminate the ‘I made this’ from my work,” he declared.

Publication excerpt from From MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)

Kelly arranged the sixty–four square panels of the grid in an arbitrary sequence, likening his method to the "the work of a bricklayer." Using squares of commercial colored paper left over from a previous series of collages, he first made a study for Colors for a Large Wall. Then he precisely matched the hues of the papers with oil paint, and arranged the final, full–size panels in strict adherence to the paper study.

Gallery label from 2006.
Medium
Oil on canvas, sixty-four panels
Dimensions
7' 10 1/2" x 7' 10 1/2" (240 x 240 cm)
Credit
Gift of the artist
Object number
1067.1969.a-b
Copyright
© 2019 Ellsworth Kelly
Department
Painting and Sculpture

If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at firenze@scalarchives.com. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA's Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or moma.org, please email text_permissions@moma.org. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to archives@moma.org.

This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to digital@moma.org.