Ligne Forme Couleur: Ellsworth Kelly dans les collections françaises
July 5 – November 4, 2018
Ellsworth Kelly (1923‒2015) is internationally recognized as one of the major artists of the 20th and the early 21st centuries. He established a bridge between the great European artists of the modern period and the various American avant-garde movements.
After having participated as a soldier in the Liberation of France during the Second World War, he returned for an extended stay, from 1948 to 1954, and continued to spend extended periods there over the course of his life. He traveled throughout the country studying Romanesque and Gothic architecture; he also frequented museums and galleries where he was particularly inspired by the works of Matthias Grünewald, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. He encountered artists Alexander Calder, Constantin Brancusi, Jean Arp, and Georges Braque. Also his exploration of the geometric abstract art of his generation and the one before were all part of his pursuit of purity, balance and emotional intensity.
It was in France that, from 1949 onwards, he elaborated a method far from the paradigms of Abstract Expressionism, which was then the dominant trend in Europe and the US. He duplicated shapes found in the real world or generated by chance, and to paraphrase him, “emptied them of their representational content [in order to] project them into a new space,” thus developing a singular vocabulary where lines, shapes and colors maintain and produce novel connections.
“Everything is beautiful, but that which man tries intentionally to make beautiful.” This aﬃrmation of Kelly’s, made in the 1960s, demonstrates the artist’s preoccupation with beauty, which was no easy thing at this moment in art history. It also provides the key to his concept-ion of an artist’s role: to reveal, to bring out the beauty of the world rather than seek to recreate it in a separate manner.
Upon his return to the United States, he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Frank Stella, Jasper Johns and his friend Agnes Martin. Like these artists, Kelly was committed to a profound renewal of the possibilities of abstraction and paint-ing in general, and was a harbinger of the radical changes brought about by the neo-avant-garde movements of the 1960s, all the while maintaining his extraor dinary unique-ness. His abstract works, often conceived as attempts to create volume in painting, objects that exist in and of themselves within the world, led to the creation of novel means, not only of painting, but also of perceiving and ex perimenting with the relationship between a work and the world.
Barely two years after his death, Kelly’s ties to France continue to be reaﬃrmed by the man who had been his partner since the 1980s, photographer Jack Shear, with his donation of fifty-four of the artist’s prints, along with the only artist’s book Kelly ever created, to the collections of France’s National Institute of Art History (Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, or INHA). They will become part of the INHA’s extensive collection of prints dating from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th, which had been donated by the great patron of the arts, Jacques Doucet.
This body of work enables one to observe the manner in which Kelly, over the entire course of his career, continued to experiment with the possibilities that the printed image oﬀered. From his first lithograph, created in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1949, to his monumental works on paper of the 2000s, these works were consistently linked to his creative process in painting and sculpture, yet also preserved an autonomy that make his prints a major component of his œuvre, and one that is often overlooked. The collection reveals little-known aspects of the artist’s methods, notably the series of abstract color lithographs, and the one devoted to the linear representation of plants, created in Paris in the mid-1960s, as well as the 1988 variations which featured his face and that of his partner.
The French National Institute of Art History has proposed that the Collection Lambert in Avignon be the first venue to present this exceptional gift to the public as part of an exhibition where these works will be accompanied by a selection of Kelly’s œuvre – paintings, drawings, collages and prints – preserved in French collections, both public and private.
During the artist’s time in Paris in the early 1950s, acquisitions by French collectors at the time were rare, to say the least. This despite the fact that galleries had dedicated several solo shows to his work from 1951 onwards. However, this dilatoriness was only temporary and now Kelly’s masterpieces are featured in the collect-ions of many major French museums, both in Paris and throughout the country, as well as figuring in the holdings of private collectors. This is the first time they will be brought together in one place and several of these works have never been shown.
Even so, French institutions have previously dedicated several major exhibitions to Kelly’s works: the Musée National d’Art Moderne/Centre Pompidou (in 1980 and 2002), the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume (1992), the Musée Matisse du Cateau-Cambrésis (2009), the Villa Medici, the French Academy in Rome (2010) – also the Musée de l’Orangerie has dedicated one of its rooms to him this year. Since the 1950s, gallery owners, museum curators and French art historians such as Aimé Maeght, Maurice Besset, Bernard Ceysson, Alfred Pacquement, Ann Hindry and Yve-Alain Bois, have shown his works, acquired them, and analyzed them in a manner that has profoundly modeled our perception of Kelly’s œuvre. We owe them a great debt.[More Information]