I Challenge You to a Kelly Haiku

Even as a museum educator and art historian, I struggle sometimes with understanding abstract works of art. A lack of subject matter, figures, and rational forms can be intimidating and at times even overwhelming. So, recently I challenged myself during my noon Spotlight Talk to discuss some of the most abstract works on view at the Phillips right now in Ellsworth Kelly: Panel Paintings 2004–2009.  I was inspired by a quote of Kelly’s: “Time is important in art, and sometimes art takes time to reveal itself.” I figured if I took time to engage with works I hardly understood, perhaps they would reveal themselves to me.

I posed this challenge to my tour group and they obliged by looking closely, sharing their observations, and finally drafting a haiku based on their favorite painting in the exhibition. Haiku are a traditional Japanese 17 syllable poem. Our haiku used the following format and Post-It notes to create simple yet powerful explanations of Kelly’s works.

Ellsworth Kelly,Yellow Relief over Red, 2004. Private collection. Photo: Jerry L. Thompson, courtesy the artist. © Ellsworth Kelly

Title: One word describing the mood
Line 1: 5 syllables describing the color
Line 2: 7 syllables describing the shape
Line 3: 5 syllables describing the lines

Here are some of our haiku’s.

Electric yellow
Those rectangles overlap
Tight and neat, so crisp
By: Margaret Collerd


It’s orange or red
Is it rectangle or square?
connected as one
By: Amy Truong


Ellsworth Kelly, Purple Curve in Relief, 2009 Private collection. Photo: Jerry L. Thompson, courtesy the artist. © Ellsworth Kelly

Red black blue green train
Squared rectangles even
Horizons kiltered
By: Anonymous


Strong purple and white
Oblong with a subtle curve
That should be a line
By: Marvin


Movement to the right
Rectangle on rectangle
Angles on angles
By: Karen


Interested in writing your own Kelly inspired haiku? Join us Thursday, Sept. 5 at Kelly’s Colors Phillips after 5 and create your own Post-It poetry to share or tweet your haiku as a tweetku and tag it #tweetku and #kellyscolors!

Margaret Collerd, Public Programs and In-Gallery Interpretation Coordinator

A Lego Challenge By the Numbers

Legos at Pa5 Photo Collage

Phillips after 5 visitors use Legos to create sculptures inspired by the work of Danish artist Per Kirkeby

135 participants of all ages

3,300 Legos of all sizes

89 total Instragrams

51 submissions

8 winners

3 hours of fun

The Phillips’s first-ever Lego challenge was a great success! The tables in the Main Gallery were packed all night with Phillips after 5 guests who built their own Per Kirkeby-inspired masterpieces. Visitors snapped photos of their creations with Instagram and tagged their pictures #PhillipsPlaysWell, in honor of Lego’s Danish roots, for a chance to win prizes. Check out winning photos below, and find the rest of the submissions @phillipscollection on Instagram.

Margaret Collerd,  Public Programs and In-gallery Interpretation Coordinator

Lego winners collage

The winning photos. Clockwise from top left: Windy Tree by Andrew M., Fallen Tree III by cerin, Untitled by ianjannetta, Untitled by mrsmerkel, New Shadows by Jessica, Sans Titre by Chris Z., and On the Floor by matthewbaileyseigel.

A Scientist’s Perspective on Kirkeby

At last night’s Phillips after 5, Michael Garstang, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Sciences provided his perspective on the Kirkeby exhibition. He began his talk by making connections between art and science saying, “Both fields draw upon creativity as the prime motive. . . both are products of infinite, incremental steps, and both must be founded upon a preconceived framework.”

Per Kirkeby, Untitled, 2006. Tempera on canvas, 78 3/4 x 98 1/2 in. Courtesy Michael Werner Gallery, New York, London, and Berlin

Per Kirkeby, Untitled, 2006. Tempera on canvas, 78 3/4 x 98 1/2 in. Courtesy Michael Werner Gallery, New York, London, and Berlin

Garstang talked about the infinite process of sedimentation, laying down grain by grain to form layers, strata, and structures in his discussion of this untitled work, which Kirkeby painted in 2006. He interpreted the parallel bands at the center of the canvas as possible “fossilized tree trunks,” citing Kirkeby’s writings on trees in which the artist explains, “I don’t think I have ever drawn a whole tree.” Despite the painting’s framework, Garstang noted that Kirkeby “interrupted the form with discordant shapes juxtaposed with a sphere.” He wondered “Is it detritus? Glacial till? Blue ice?” Like Kirkeby, Garstang was reluctant to interpret the end result saying, “I’ll let you sort this one yourselves.”