Controlled Disorganization: Ellsworth Kelly at the Barnes

sculpture for a large wall by Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly (American, b. 1923). Sculpture for a Large Wall, 1956–1957. Anodized aluminum, 104 panels, 136 x 782 1/2 x 12 in. (345.4 x 1987.6 x 30.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York, gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, 1998. © Ellsworth Kelly. Image: © 2013 The Barnes Foundation

Earlier this month, my family and I decided to go on a little getaway to Philadelphia specifically to see the newly revamped Barnes Foundation. The Barnes is one of several major art galleries like MoMA, Detroit Institute of the Arts, the National Gallery of Art and The Phillips Collection celebrating Ellsworth Kelly’s 90th birthday by hosting exhibitions of his work.

Having spent many a lunch break exploring the Phillips’s Kelly exhibition (one of the main perks of being an intern in an art museum) I was definitely interested in seeing the Barnes’s exhibition as a means of comparison. The combination of the two shows, and the differences between them, gave me a unique perspective on an artist whose work I was mostly unfamiliar with until recently.

Walking into the exhibition at the Barnes, the first piece you see is Sculpture for a Large Wall, and this was my favorite piece in the exhibit. The sculpture is massive, taking up the entire back wall of the gallery space, and is composed of 104 aluminum panels colored red, yellow, blue, and black. These panels are lined up in various positions along four rows. One of the reasons why this was undeniably my favorite piece in the show was because of its sense of chaos and mayhem, which juxtaposes the serenity and calmness of the other pieces. The panels are not neatly lined up, but rather pointed in every direction, making it feel like a controlled disorganization, which contrasts to the element of perfection seen in his other pieces. Seeing this piece side by side with his other work gave me perspective on the breadth of his work and his unmistakable style.

And, because I always like to end my posts with an interesting tidbit, this was the first time since 1998 that Sculpture for a Large Wall was shown in Philadelphia. The work was commissioned by the Philadelphia Transportation Building in 1957 where it hung until renovations forced its removal in 1998.

Hannah Hoffman, Marketing Intern

Van Gogh’s True Colors

Side by side comparison of van gogh's original The Road Menders and the same painting run through a Chromatic Vision Simulator

Vincent van Gogh’s The Road Menders from the Phillips’s permanent collection. At left, the original painting. At right, the same image after applying 60% protanomal simulation in Kazunori Asada’s Chromatic Vision Simulator. Of this comparison, Asada says “In the original, the color of the trees and ground is bit strange, and coarse lines are conspicuous in the stones. But after conversion, the trees and the ground begin to look solid, and depth is felt for the road.” (Vincent van Gogh, The Road Menders, 1889. Oil on canvas, 29 x 361/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C. Acquired 1949.)

 A recent essay by Japanese medical scientist Kazunori Asada proposes that Vincent van Gogh may have been colorblind—which, if accurate, would have influenced his color palette and might have resulted in the drastic, clashing hues for which he’s so well known (and admired). Asada compares side-by-side images of van Gogh’s artwork with the same image run through his Chromatic Vision Simulator (quite fun to play around with if you have a moment) and sees what he judges to be a normalizing effect. Artinfo.com’s Kyle Chayka was quick to poke some holes in Asada’s argument, pointing out that “the versions of the paintings he uses aren’t necessarily true to life.”

Whether true or not, I’m glad to have come across Asada’s research. It raises an interesting question about the artist’s role in relation to his or her work—if a piece speaks to you, does it matter what message the artist intended to send? Would van Gogh bang his fists and be upset that we’d all gotten it wrong, or would he smile for the fact that people are finding beauty and meaning where he himself didn’t even intend it?

Amy Wike, Publicity and Marketing Coordinator