September 29, 2007

Hard edge in Grand Rapids

Minimalist painter Ellsworth Kelly has redefined abstraction by examining the shapes and colors found in natural and man-made forms, producing a visually breathtaking and philosophically sophisticated body of work. Of course, not everyone sees it that way. At the soon-to-open Grand Rapids Art Museum in Michigan, “Blue White,” an Ellsworth Kelly sculpture, has become the catalyst for a local brouhaha about the nature of art. In the Grand Rapids Press, Tom Rademacher describes the artwork as “little more than a $1 million parallelogram wrapped in hoopla and artist babble,” and approvingly cites another viewer’s highly original remark that her five-year old could do just as well.

Troy Reimink, who also writes for the Press, summarizes the debate, and quotes Mr. Kelly’s characteristically gracious response. “The painting did not exist until I made it,” said the artist. “Now that it does exist, nothing would make me happier than to have it reproduced again and again, and vastly improved upon, by all the five-year-olds in town. I would love for your children to find pleasantly and playfully what it took me many angry years to find.”

Check out the slide show included with the article, which shows the installation of the 1,200-pound sculpture and includes audio of Kelly talking about his work.

Ellsworth Kelly’s work is also on view in New York at the Museum of Modern Art. As part of the “Focus” series, a gallery has been dedicated to thirteen of Kelly’s paintings and drawings, some of which are being shown publicly for the first time. Alix Finkelstein writes in the New York Sun that “due to their anti-volumetric plasticity and bright colors, Kelly’s paintings appear to float in space, more spirit than matter.” She does not indicate that her kindergartener could make them.

More TCOP posts on Ellsworth Kelly:
The subterfuge artists of WWII
"Ellsworth Kelly: Fragments" at FilmColumbia Festival
Ellsworth Kelly rocks at the Tate Modern