Short Features

In the Gallery

Ellsworth Kelly at the Menil

Ellsworth Kelly, White Blue, 1959. Oil on canvas, 18 x 24 in. (45.7 x 61 cm). The artist, Courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery.
In 2017–18, the Menil exhibited seven early paintings by the American artist Ellsworth Kelly (1923–2015), loans from the artist’s collection, in the museum’s foyer. With flat expanses of bright, primary colors and bold, reductive forms with sharp edges and delineated contours and curves, these abstract paintings are based on the artist’s observations of the world around him. Kelly said, “the things I am interested in have always been there. The idea of a shadow of a natural object has existed, like the shadow of the pyramids, or a rock and its shadow; I’m not interested in the texture of a rock, or that it is a rock but in the mass of it and its shadow.”

The seven paintings from 1955 to 1960 were created while Kelly was living in New York City, in an area of lower Manhattan called Coenties Slip. This industrial and bohemian neighborhood of artists included Robert Indiana, Lenore Tawney and Agnes Martin, among others. Characterized by its proximity to the East River, the creative community was a fertile ground for Kelly. He increasingly turned to the landscape of the waterfront for inspiration. The presentation in the museum’s foyer is organized by Curator Michelle White to complement the exhibition Between Land and Sea: Artists of the Coenties Slip and to highlight the Menil’s commitment to Kelly during the museum’s 30th anniversary season.

This presentation of Kelly’s paintings was on view in the Main Building foyer from April 17, 2017, through February 25, 2018.

Ellsworth Kelly was born in Newburgh, New York in 1923. After serving in the military during World War II, Kelly studied at the School of the Museum Fine Arts, Boston and the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris. Kelly’s first retrospective was held at the Museum of Modern Art in 1973 and he has since been recognized in major solo retrospectives at the Whitney Museum of American Art (1982); the Guggenheim, New York (1996); Fondation Beyeler, Basel (2002); and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2012). His work is held in the collections of the Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Tate Modern, London; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others.

This presentation is generously sponsored by The City of Houston.