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March 3rd, 2006
Museum Exhibits the Early Works of Ellsworth Kelly

PRESS PREVIEW: Friday, March 10, 2006, 10:00 a.m.–noon

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is presenting thirty-nine paintings, collages, and drawings by the American artist Ellsworth Kelly (b. 1923). The works trace the changes that occurred in his work during the formative period in which he developed the intensely felt abstraction for which he is widely known today. On view from March 11 through August 13, 2006, Ellsworth Kelly: Paris/New York, 1949–1959 consists of loans from the artist and private collections. It reveals his vision in the process of unfolding, in Paris when, in his mid-twenties, Kelly turned away from figure painting and found a new voice in abstraction rooted in direct observation.

Anne d’Harnoncourt, Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said, “We are delighted to present these remarkable works by Ellsworth Kelly in our galleries. They trace Kelly’s artistic path in the early stages of his career and demonstrate why he is today considered one of the most eminent artists of our time.

“Kelly’s work also resonates with earlier painting and sculpture in the Museum’s collection by artists he knew and admired. His playful use of the grid and black, white, and primary colors in his compositions recall Piet Mondrian, and his interest in chance connects to the work of Marcel Duchamp and Hans Arp. While in Paris, Kelly visited Constantin Brancusi’s studio, among many others, and he was particularly drawn to the sculptor’s abstract interpretations of observed reality, which have clear connections with his own work. The Museum’s fine collection of Juan Gris paintings also has particular importance for Kelly, who once saw a number of Gris’s small compositions hung together in a manner that suggested to him the possibility that a single painting might consist of several separate panels.”

Born in 1923 in Newburgh, New York, Ellsworth Kelly has been honored with many important exhibitions and retrospectives. He studied at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, from 1941 to 1943. After military service from 1943 until 1945, he attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from 1946 to 1947. The following year, the twenty-five-year-old artist moved to Paris, where he lived for six years before moving to New York in 1954. In France, he was introduced to Surrealism and Neoplasticism, and in 1950 he met Arp, whom the artist has acknowledged as an important influence. Kelly’s close examination of the world is seen in his drawings of plant forms and in his renderings of the buildings and bridges of Paris. Kelly began to employ chance in the composition of his works, and at the same time started to use the grid—devices evident in his collages from 1951. In the painting Seine (1951) and the preparatory drawing for it, he creates a tension between systematic and chance procedures in his abstract evocation of shifting light and shadow on the river surface. In the 1950s, Kelly made an important shift from small object-like works toward larger-scale paintings like North River, 1959 that command a wall and convey a strong sense of shifting space. The titles of these later works often reflect the artist’s growing emphasis on the formal qualities of his compositions.

The exhibition is installed in galleries of the Modern and Contemporary Wing. Gallery 175 contains twelve paintings, and twenty-seven works on paper are located in the adjacent Honickman Gallery (172).

PRESS PREVIEW: Members of the media are invited to the joint press preview for Ellsworth Kelly: Paris/New York, 1949-1959 and Recent Acquisitions: Prints and Drawings from Dürer to Doig. The preview is set for Friday, March 10, 2006, from 10 a.m. until noon. A curatorial tour of each exhibition is scheduled. Refreshments will be served. Please use the West Entrance.

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