Ellsworth Kellys famous prints of geometric shapes, along with prints of flowers and plants, are on view at the Detroit Institute of Arts
May 24September 8. The exhibition is free with museum admission.
For more than 50 years, Kelly has created paintings, sculptures, and more than 330 editions of individual prints in what has become one of the most recognizable styles of modern art. While Kelly is best known for his colorful geometric subjects, his art is far broader. More than half of his pieces are in black and white, and he has worked simultaneously in a realistically based drawing style to create more than 70 plant and flower lithographs as well as a dozen portraits.
The exhibition features more than 100 prints from the collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer and the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation of Portland, Oregon. They cover all periods from the mid-1960s to the present and are arranged on two floors of the DIA. The color prints in the first floor Schwartz Galleries for Prints and Drawings are divided into two of Kellys main themes, Curves and Grids; his series Twenty-Seven Color Lithographs is also on view. Kellys work in black and white is displayed in the second-floor galleries adjacent to Rivera Court and includes examples from all six of Kellys plant series, his geometric subjects, and his 2005 series Rivers.
Kellys art, including his geometric subjects, is inspired by observing natural phenomena. His insights might begin as reactions to specific objects or shapes, such as a piece of crushed gold foil, or the graceful sweep of a Korean ceramic, to spatial illusions created by a partly pulled window shade, or the intensity of a beam of light dancing across a surface, or the refractions of a shadow that bends and twists to fit other forms. Then, through a careful process of planning, Kelly refines his ideas into the highly controlled and perfect compositions of his hybrid shapes.
Over the decades Kelly has concentrated on a myriad of problems and presentations about shape and color. While he has employed all forms of printmaking, lithography has by far been his preferred medium. He has collaborated with a variety of distinguished printing houses, but since 1970 most of his prints have been made at Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles. His work is represented in public and private collections and institutions across the world and has been shown in an equally great number of venues over the many decades of his career.
Kelly first retrospective exhibition toured the United States in 1973, and the DIA was one of its four venues. In 1987, the artists first retrospective of prints opened at the DIA before touring the country. The current exhibition was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and was presented at the Portland Museum of Art and the Madison Museum of Contemporary at before arriving in Detroit. In late 2013 it will move on to the High Museum in Atlanta.
Kelly was born in 1923 in Newburgh, New York. He was a student at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1941 and 1942 before he was drafted into the army in 1943. He served with a camouflage unit creating posters used to train troops in concealment techniques and in a decoy unit specializing in techniques to conceal troop positions. In May 1944, he was deployed to Europe. After World War II, he enrolled at the Boston Museum School and in 1948 he traveled to France where he spent the first six years of his professional life as an artist. He had his first solo exhibition in Paris in 1951. Within two years of returning to the United States, he had his first solo exhibition in New York City. It was not until 1964 that Kelly began his first large series of prints, Twenty-Seven Color Lithographs, which has been called his aesthetic vocabulary. At the same time, he worked on his first botanical series Suite of Plant Lithographs. Both series were completed in Paris and are represented in the exhibition.