LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Los Angeles County Museum of Art
presents Ellsworth Kelly: Prints and Paintings, the first retrospective of the artists prolific print practice since the late 1980s. This exhibition coincides with the forthcoming revised and updated catalogue raisonné of Kellys prints, and features more than 100 works on paper, in addition to a selection of paintings from local collections. Ellsworth Kelly: Prints and Paintings is organized thematically by key motifs, demonstrating the artists long-standing engagement with elemental form and pure color.
This exhibition allows us to see the consistency of Kellys print practice, and how the formal hallmarks of his paintings and drawings have an important place in his graphic work, notes Stephanie Barron, senior curator of modern art and exhibition co-curator.
Britt Salvesen, curator of prints and drawings and exhibition co-curator adds, Whether created in series or individually, these prints offer an opportunity to explore Kellys ongoing interest in pure form and color.
Kelly produced his first editioned prints in 1964-65, with Maeght Éditeur in Paris. Although he has explored intaglio and screenprinting methods, his primary affinity is for lithography. His growing interest in the medium coincided with the founding of Gemini G.E.L., the now-legendary print workshop located on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Geminis founders Ken Tyler, Sidney Felsen, and Stanley Grinstein first approached Kelly in 1968. Based on strong recommendations by artist Frank Stella and critic Barbara Rose, Kelly accepted their invitation and first visited the workshop in 1970, initiating a collaboration that has lasted more than forty years. In total, the artist has created 336 editions.
Spanning five galleries on the second floor of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM), the exhibition is organized thematically by major formal motifs: curves, contrast, and grids. The final room, with four major paintings, suggests the reciprocal connections between Kellys paintings and prints. A majority of the prints on view come from the collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer, a Portland, Oregon based collector with an extensive holding of Kellys prints. Together with examples from LACMAs collection, the exhibition provides a thorough overview of the artists prolific printmaking activity.
Throughout his career, Kelly has worked with curvilinear shapes, exploring their abstract potential without losing their biomorphic allusions. As seen in the first gallery, he introduces variations of scale and color, suspending forms gracefully on the white ground of the paper. The second gallery presents Kellys first engagement with printmaking Suite of Twenty-Seven Lithographs (196465), created for Maeght Éditeur which is a kind of concordance of forms Kelly had been refining in his paintings during the prior decade. The inherently repetitive nature of the printing process allowed the artist to reshuffle these basic shapes in a range of colors while maintaining cohesion throughout the suite.
Kelly is one of modern arts great colorists, but black has also featured prominently in his work: more than half of his prints are black-and-white compositions. The exhibitions third and largest gallery demonstrates the astonishing variation Kelly has achieved within the discipline of monochrome. Plant lithographs have the delicacy of drawings and the immediacy of direct observation; while the monumental States of the River prints (2005) are gestural, even impressionistic.
Kelly usually develops an idea first in a collage or drawing before realizing it as a painting, sculpture, or print. Exceptionally, the artist has lent sixteen examples of these initial studies for inclusion in LACMAs exhibition, including his 1949 first study for a lithograph made when he was in Paris. Two examples address a third recurrent formal motif: the grid, which maps the artworks surface and eliminates theme, narrative, and perspectival space. The dimensionality of canvas returns in the exhibitions concluding gallery, which features LACMAs Blue on Blue (1963) and Blue Curve III (1972); Red Orange White Green Blue (1968) from the Norton Simon Museum of Art; and Black Relief over White (2004), generously on loan from a Los Angeles private collection. Together with LACMAs White Sculpture II (1968, a gift of Ray Stark, on display at the exhibitions entrance), these objects illustrate the many thematic overlaps between Kellys prints and his works in other media.