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MoMA celebrates Ellsworth Kelly's 90th birthday reuniting The Chatham Series paintings of 1971
Ellsworth Kelly (American, born 1923). Chatham IV: Blue Red-Orange. 1971. Oil on canvas, two joined panels. 108 x 99″ (274.3 x 251.5 cm). The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Gift of Daniel Melnick. © Ellsworth Kelly. Photo credit: The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Photo: Brian Forrest.
NEW YORK, NY.- In celebration of Ellsworth Kelly’s 90th birthday, The Museum of Modern Art presents Ellsworth Kelly: Chatham Series, an exhibition that reunites, for the first time in 40 years, the first series of paintings the artist made after leaving New York City for Spencertown, in upstate New York, in 1970. On view from May 23 through September 8, 2013, the exhibition is organized by Ann Temkin, the Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art.

After working for about a year in a studio he found in the nearby town of Chatham, Kelly (American, b. 1923) embarked upon an ambitious series of 14 paintings that he would name for the town. Each of the works in the Chatham Series takes the form of an inverted ell made of two joined canvases, each a different color: black, white, red, yellow, blue, or green. These compositions grew from an intuitive process rather than a system: the final paintings are based on studies Kelly made by manipulating paired pieces of colored paper, adjusting the colors and their proportions until he was pleased.

By the time he created the Chatham Series, Kelly was well established as an artist. Born in Newburgh, New York, and trained at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, he first developed his abstract vocabulary of line, form, and color while living and working in Paris, from 1948 to 1954. Resolving to make what he described as “anonymous” work, Kelly aimed to suppress the presence of personal painterly gesture in his canvases. During this formative period Kelly began to explore the joining of monochrome expanses together to create multipanel works, an approach that has endured throughout his career.

The Chatham Series was first exhibited at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, in 1972, one year after the series' completion. At the close of that exhibition, the 14 paintings went their separate ways. Reuniting this landmark series for the first time provides a welcome opportunity to revisit a key moment in Kelly’s artistic development.

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