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

Spotlight on The Red Sun: Part II

Image of works by Ellsworth Kelly, Joan Miro, and Alexander Calder

(Left) Ellsworth Kelly, Red Relief, 2009. Oil on canvas, two joined panels, 80 x 62 1/2 x 2 5/8 in. Private collection. Photo: Jerry L. Thompson, courtesy the artist © Ellsworth Kelly (middle) Joan Miró, The Red Sun, 1948. Oil and gouache on canvas, 36 1/8 x 28 1/8 in. Acquired 1951. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. (right) Alexander Calder, Untitled, 1948. Painted sheet metal and wire, 26 x 26 x 5 1/2 in. Gift from the estate of Katherine S. Dreier, 1953. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

Read Part I of this series 

It is always fun to hear the stories behind a work of art, giving an otherwise unknown perspective on the painting. Duncan Phillips wanted to show “art beyond ‘isms,’” and I found it interesting that while he was not keen on surrealism, he acquired Joan Miró’s The Red Sun (1948) on the grounds that it fit in with the rest of his collection. Our guide for this spotlight talk, Paul Ruther, pointed out this connectivity and discussed the painting’s similarities to other works currently on view nearby–the surrounding Ellsworth Kelly panels (use of similar, bright primary colors) and Alexander Calder mobiles (floating objects in space).

Miró’s whimsy was not only evident in his art, but also his personality. After visiting the United States and New York for the first time, he returned to Spain with an unusual souvenir—sidewalk toys, which he added to his personal toy collection. In fact, some of the toys’ faces are strikingly similar to the background face in this painting!

Hannah Hoffman, Marketing Intern