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Exhibition takes rare look at the influence of the Hamptons on Ellsworth Kelly's work
Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015), Red, White and Blue, 1961. Oil on linen, 88 1/4 x 66 9/16 in. (224.2 x 169.1 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Gift of Betty Parsons 70.1582 © Ellsworth Kelly.

EAST HAMPTON, NY.- Ellsworth Kelly in the Hamptons, a rarely-grouped exhibition of works by artist Ellsworth Kelly, made on the East End, will be on view beginning Saturday, August 11 to Monday, October 8, at Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton. The exhibition is organized by guest curator Phyllis Tuchman, who previously brought to Guild Hall the exhibition Robert Motherwell: The East Hampton Years, 1944-1952. Further, the exhibition coincides with a year of Kelly celebrations, prompted by the opening of the sanctuary, Austin, a site of joy and contemplation designed by the artist and inaugurated posthumously earlier this year at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas.

Ellsworth Kelly’s sabbaticals in the Hamptons during 1960 and 1961 and a few years later, during 1968 and 1969, were pivotal episodes in the artist’s career, which spanned more than six decades. While based on the East End, Kelly, one of America’s most significant abstractionists, made paintings, sculptures, works on paper, and photographs, including studies of plants , flowers, and even horseshoe crabs as well as images of local farmyard barns. This body of work has, surprisingly, not been previously investigated in any exhibition, and is barely mentioned in most chronologies devoted to his life and art.

Varied in their dimensions, with singular interior shapes and strong colors, these works by Kelly go off in a new direction from what preceded them. The same can also be said of the art he executed at the end of the 1960s. Moreover, many of his shaped canvases were inspired by the barns that the painter photographed in Southampton in 1968. Then too, his palette became bolder and more assertive, the scale of his canvases grew larger, and his preoccupation with shaping established him as a pioneer of the times.

Often employing bright, primary colors, Kelly was a painter, sculptor, and printmaker associated with the golden age of American abstraction. His celebrated work resides in museums the world over, and much of the compelling work Kelly executed in the Hamptons is found in museums in New York and other institutions on the East Coast, but has never been seen all together. Besides belonging to critical moments in Kelly’s career, the paintings, works on paper, and photographs that will be on view at Guild Hall illuminate yet another important chapter in the history of American art that is rooted in the East End.

Ellsworth Kelly was born in Newburgh, New York on May 31, 1923. Raised in Oradell, New Jersey, he attended Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood, New Jersey, where he studied theater with John Travolta’s mother. During World War II, he served in a camouflage unit in France, a country that inspired many of his compelling early works. All told, he studied at Pratt Institute, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. From the outset of his career, Kelly enjoyed friendships with many other remarkable artists. In 1955, two years after he moved to New York from Paris, he held his first solo show in NYC with the Betty Parsons Gallery. During the late 1960s, Sidney Janis became his dealer. Kelly’s art has been represented by Matthew Marks for many years. After living in the amazing community associated with Coenties Slip, he moved to the Hotel des Artistes, near Central Park. Kelly moved to Spencertown, New York, near the end of the Taconic Parkway, in 1970. The recipient of many prestigious awards and retrospective exhibitions in museums around the world, Kelly passed away at the age of 92 in December 27, 2015. He was married and spent many decades with his partner Jack Shear, who heads the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation.

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