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Between 1948 and 1954, American artist Ellsworth Kelly lived in Paris, where he met a number of artists and developed the distinctive artistic practices for which he is known. He made significant changes in his artistic production during this formative period.
An avid student of art history and a keen observer of works by his contemporaries, he created images in these early years that resonate with paintings, sculptures, and drawings from the Renaissance to the twentieth century. With works of art by various artists, selected from the Museum’s collection, this exhibition illuminates some of these connections.
Kelly’s use of unconventional materials, such as string and paper scraps, draws on the early twentieth-century invention of collage, specifically Cubist compositions by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, while his playful engagement with the grid relates to the abstract paintings of Piet Mondrian and Ad Reinhardt. Works by Jean (Hans) Arp and John Cage (both of whom Kelly met in Paris), as well as by Sophie Taeuber-Arp (seen above-left), encouraged the young artist to employ chance as an artistic strategy, and the object-like nature of many of Kelly’s pieces from this period relates to the sculpture of Julio González, Alberto Giacometti, and the Belgian Georges Vantongerloo, whom Kelly befriended in Paris. His use of direct observation of nature—such as the reflection of light on water—which informs compositions such as Seine, resonates with earlier work from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by Thomas Eakins and Claude Monet.
The remarkable range of styles in this exhibition reveals the impressive reach of Kelly’s artistic interests, which continue to this day.