Line Form Colour

Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) in French collections

July 5 – November 4, 2018

Ellsworth Kelly (1923–2015) is currently recognized internationally as one of the great artists of the 20th and early 21st centuries. His work established a link between the European pioneers of modernity and the American avant-garde movements of the second half of the 20th century.

After having participated as a soldier in the Liberation of France during the Second World War, he returned to France, settling there from 1948 to 1954, and continued to spend time there throughout his life. It was in France that he developed the method that enabled him to transcend the traditional oppositions between abstraction and figuration. From 1949 onwards, he duplicated the shapes found in the world around him or produced by chance and, in his words, “emptied them of their representational content [in order to] see objectively, to erase all meaning of the thing seen. Then only, could the real meaning of it be understood and felt.”

This exhibition shows the close ties Kelly had with France by presenting a selection of the artist’s works which have been preserved here, in both private and public collections, some of which have not been shown for decades. The core of the collection is made up of prints recently donated by Jack Shear to the library of France’s National Institute of Art History (INHA). These works provide an overview of the artist’s career while also highlighting aspects of his œuvre that are often neglected, such as his paradoxical approach to portraiture.

From prints to drawings, paintings to sculpture, Kelly’s interactive approach often took the form of reprises or variations, sometimes in one direction, sometimes the other, or even parallel creations. The faithful reproduction of plants that Kelly practiced throughout his life was thus strictly confined to work on paper and he never reprised those shapes on canvas. From one technique to the other, the same qualities are nonetheless present. What might seem to be impersonality and a precise attention to concrete conditions actually sustains a heightened sensitivity to shapes, lines and colors.

See the exhibition catalogue