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Drawn from Nature: The Plant Lithographs of Ellsworth Kelly
March 4 - May 15, 2005
For the first time, the complete plant lithographs of Ellsworth Kelly will be on view at the Grand Rapids Art Museum form March 4 - May 15, 2005. Drawn from Nature: The Plant Lithographs of Ellsworth Kelly document a rich variety of plants, fruits and flowers in line drawings characterized by exceptional simplicity and beauty. Organized by the Grand Rapids Art Museum in cooperation with Ellsworth Kelly, the exhibition will tour internationally to Hanover, NH, New York City, London, England and Seville, Spain. (right: Ellsworth Kelly, Calla Lily III, 1983-85, Lithograph, 36 x 25 inches, Grand Rapids Art Museum, Gift of William and Marilyn Crawford, 2004.2.58)
An American artist of worldwide renown, Ellsworth Kelly (born 1923) has consistently returned to nature as a theme throughout his extraordinary career. Kelly began making prints in 1964. Shortly thereafter he created his first suite of plant lithographs. The complete plant lithographs, created from the early 1960s to the present, are seen in Drawn from Nature and taken entirely from the permanent collection at GRAM. Gathered over the past year, with generous support of donors and the artist himself, the plant lithographs are a central holding of the museum.
To date, Kelly has produced seventy-two plant lithographs: Suite of Plant Lithographs (1964-66), Leaves (1973-74), Twelve Leaves (1978), Series of Plant and Flower Lithographs (1983-85); Oak Leaves (1992); and fourteen individual works. When examined as a whole, they show a remarkable range of style and expression within the format of contour line drawing.
Ellsworth Kelly has occupied the center stage of modernism since his early years in Paris in the 1950s where he came under the influence of artists like Jean Arp, Constantin Brancusi, and Alexander Calder. Distinguished for his pure minimalist style in painting, sculpture, and work on paper, Kelly declares that his abstraction remains rooted in the natural world. In their simplicity of line and shape, The Plant Lithographs reveal the source of Kelly's art in vision and nature. They provide a critical link to the character of his abstraction.
A fully illustrated hardcover catalogue raisonné of the plant lithographs written by Dr. Richard H. Axsom, Senior Curator, Prints and Photographs at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, will accompany the exhibition. The book is published by Marquand Books and distributed by Yale University Press.
This exhibition is organized and circulated by the Grand Rapids Art Museum.
About Ellsworth Kelly
Ellsworth Kelly was born May 31, 1923, in Newburgh, New York. He studied at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, from 1941 to 1943. After military service from 1943 to 1945, he attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from 1946 to 1947. The following year, Kelly went to France and enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris under the G.I. Bill, although he attended classes infrequently. In France, he discovered Romanesque art and architecture and Byzantine art. He was also introduced to Surrealism and Neo-Plasticism, which led him to experiment with automatic drawing and geometric abstraction. (right: Ellsworth Kelly, Catalpa Leaf (Feuille), 1965-66, Lithograph, 30 x 42 inches. Grand Rapids Art Museum, Gift of James Pingree and Mary Nelson, 2004.2.3-31)
Kelly abstracts the form in his paintings from observations of the real world, such as shadows cast by trees or the spaces between architectural elements. In 1950, Kelly met Jean Arp and that same year began to make shaped-wood reliefs and collages in which some elements were arranged according to the laws of chance. He soon began to make paintings in separate panels that can be recombined to produce alternative compositions, as well as multipanel paintings in which canvas is painted a single color. During the 1950s, he traveled throughout France, where he met Constantin Brancusi, Alexander Calder, Alberto Magnelli, Frances Picabia and Georges Vantongerloo, among other artists. His first solo show took place at the Galerie Arnaud, Paris, in 1951.
Kelly returned to the United States in 1954, living in a studio apartment on Broad Street, and then at Coenties Slip in lower Manhattan. Kelly continued to develop and expand the vocabulary of painting, exploring issues of form and ground with his flatly painted canvases. His first solo show in New York was held at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1956 and three years later he was included in Sixteen Americans at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 1958, he also began to make freestanding sculptures. He moved out of Manhattan in 1970, set up a studio in Chatham, and a home in nearby Spencertown, New York.
Kelly's first retrospective was held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1973. The following year, Kelly began an ongoing series of totemic sculptures in steel and aluminum. He traveled throughout Spain, Italy and France in 1977, when his work was included in Documenta in Kassel. He has executed many public commissions, including a mural for UNESCO in Paris in 1969, sculpture for the city of Barcelona in 1978 and a memorial for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C. in 1993. Kelly's extensive work has been recognized in numerous retrospective exhibitions, including a sculpture exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in 1982; an exhibition of works on paper and a show of his print works that traveled extensively in the United States and Canada from 1987-88; and a career retrospective in 1996 organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, which traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Tate Gallery, London; and the Haus der Kunst, Munich. Kelly lives in Spencertown, NY. (right: Ellsworth Kelly, Tangerine (Mandarine), 1964-65, Lithograph, 35 1/2 x 24 1/8 inches. Grand Rapids Art Museum, Gift of James Pingree and Mary Nelson, 2004.2.3-31)
Principals of the Exhibition
Richard H. Axsom, curator of the exhibition, has been Senior Curator of Prints and Photographs at the Grand Rapids Art Museum since 2000. He has organized exhibitions that include: Picasso and the Twentieth Century (2002), a retrospective of the artist's prints with loans from the National Gallery of Canada and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Eye of the Beholder: A History of Photography (2002), which drew upon the LaSalle Bank Photography Collection in Chicago; and Paris 1890 (2004), with important loans from the National Gallery of Canada. His forthcoming exhibitions include: Drawn From Nature: The Plant Lithographs of Ellsworth Kelly (2005); and Modern Masters of German Expressionism: Artists of Brücke from the Milwaukee Art Museum (2005).
Following a twenty-eight year teaching career at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, he was named Professor Emeritus of Art History in the spring of 2002. During his tenure at UM-Dearborn, Professor Axsom taught courses in the area of modern and contemporary art. He did his graduate training in art history at The University of Michigan, taking his Ph.D. in 1974, with a dissertation on Pablo Picasso's theater designs, The Ballet "Parade": Cubism as Theater, whose research was supported by a Chester Dale Fellowship, granted by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and which was published by Garland Press in the Outstanding Dissertations in the Fine Arts series in 1979.
Professor Axsom has published extensively in the area of the modem print. He has authored and co-authored definitive catalogues raisonnes of the prints of four major twentieth-century artists: The Prints of Frank Stella: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1967-1982 (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1983), which was awarded "Outstanding Academic Publication in the Arts" by Choice Magazine in 1983, and an "Award of Merit" in the Museum Publications Competition in 1984; The Prints of Ellsworth Kelly: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1949-1985 (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1987); Printed Stuff: Prints, Posters, and Ephemera by Claes Oldenburg, 1959-1996, with David Platzker (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1997) which won the George Wittenborn Memorial Book Award in 1997; and Terry Winters: A Catalogue Raisonné of Printed Editions, with Nancy Sojka (The Detroit Institute of Arts, 1999).
In conjunction with the catalogues raisonnés, Professor Axsom has guest-curated major print retrospectives for Frank Stella (The University of Michigan Museum of Art, 1982), Ellsworth Kelly (The Detroit Institute of Arts, 1997), and Claes Oldenburg (Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 1995). All three exhibitions had American tours, whose venues included the Whitney Museum of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Des Moines Art Center.
In addition to the catalogue of Ellsworth Kelly's prints, Professor Axsom has also published texts on Kelly's art and prints that include: "In-Between Perceptions: Ellsworth Kelly's Recent Prints" in Ellsworth Kelly: Recent Prints (Boston Gallery University Gallery of Art, 1998); "Ellsworth Kelly: Fragmentation and the Single Form," with Ellsworth Kelly in the Artist's Choice Series (New York: Museum of Modem Art, 1990); and "Ellsworth Kelly's Portrait Lithographs" (Los Angeles: Gemini G.E.L., 1990).
Celeste Marie Adams has been Director of the Grand Rapids Art Museum since 1997. Ms. Adams has worked in the art museum profession for over twenty-five years and is a member of AAMD (Association of Art Museum Directors). She began her museum career at the Cleveland Museum of Art and worked subsequently at the Fogg Museum, Harvard University, and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, where she served as Curator and Associate Director. She is an honors graduate in Art History from the University of Michigan and has M.A. degrees in Western and Asian Art History from the University of Pennsylvania and from Harvard University.
In her eight years as director, she has set the museum on a new course of professional progress. She has doubled the museum's annual attendance and established a record for attendance of a single exhibition with Light Screens: The Leaded Glass of Frank Lloyd Wright in 2001. She has completed national re-accreditation for the museum, increased the museum's endowment from $1.8 million to its current $9 million and is in the process of constructing a new art museum and completing a $75 million capital campaign.
Ellsworth Kelly (b. 1923) and Alexander Calder (1898-1976):
1953 Meeting in Paris
Ellsworth Kelly met Alexander Calder in Paris in 1953. Jack Youngerman, a fellow artist who had connections to one of Calder's patrons, introduced them. The fifty-five year old Calder, who had come to Paris in 1926, was already an established international artist, well known for his miniature circus, wire sculptures, and his invention of "mobiles," brightly colored metal shapes suspended on wires and set in motion by air currents. Calder had been involved with European Surrealist artists since the 1930s and was a close friend of Joan Miró. In the early 1950s, the younger thirty-year old Kelly met Jean Arp, Constantin Brancusi and other members of The School of Paris. Through these artists, Kelly had already absorbed geometric and biomorphic abstraction and Surrealism when he met Calder, but it was the American Calder who would ultimately have the most significant impact on Kelly's career. Kelly and Calder did not visit each other's studios after their initial meeting in Paris, but that meeting began a friendship that deepened over the years after Kelly returned to New York in 1954.
New York: 19541976
In America, Kelly came to know Calder and his family very well, especially his daughter Mary and her son Alexander. When Calder was at his studio in Norfolk, Connecticut, he often invited Kelly up for parties. Kelly fondly remembers taking a small painting to Calder as a house gift. The two artists exchanged studio visits and when in New York or Paris would attend each other's exhibitions. In Paris, the two Americans were represented by Galerie Maeght, one of the most important galleries of modern art in France. Calder's enthusiasm for Kelly's art, conveyed to the directors of The Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, helped establish the younger artist in the New York art world. Calder's endorsements played a significant role in the recognition of Kelly as a major American artist in the early 1960s. In 1971, Kelly moved his studio and residence to upstate New York. In the last several years of Calder's life, the two friends did not see much of each other. But their warm regards for each other lasted until Calder's death in 1976. Kelly was touched later to learn that Calder, in his final days, said, "I miss seeing Ellsworth."
Calder and Kelly: Two Generations of American Art
Calder and American sculptor, Isamu Noguchi, made Paris their home during the 1920s and 1930s. Noguchi arrived in Paris in 1927, one year after Calder. He served for a time as Brancusi's assistant and occasionally assisted Calder with performances of his Circus. Their art was forged in Paris and rooted in European Surrealism, which they translated into a new American context and vernacular. Both artists also expanded their art into performance and design. They became the most celebrated American modern artists of their generation.
Kelly's mature style, established in Paris during the early 1950s, was an elaboration of the flat, sharp-edged, and vivid color forms associated with the geometric and biomorphic abstraction that prevailed in France during the 1930s. These avant-garde styles were epitomized for Kelly in the surrealist art of Jean Arp and Joan Miró. Directly influenced by these two European artists, Kelly affirms that his most important American influence was Alexander Calder. (right: Alexander Calder's La Grande Vitesse, in downtown Grand Rapids)
Kelly, like Calder, painted his early metal sculptures in strong colors, which likewise were placed directly on the ground with no base. Kelly's sculptures were tied to Calder's "stabiles": large-scale, nonmoving, metal-plate constructions. Developed after World War II, Calder's stabiles found their finest expression in the monumental La Grande Vitesse, commissioned by the City of Grand Rapids and installed there in 1969 through the support of trustees of the Grand Rapids Art Museum.
The ideas of a younger generation of American artists working in New York after World War II were strikingly influenced by the avant-garde styles of Surrealism and biomorphic abstraction of the 1940s. A new generation in American art, including Ellsworth Kelly, would constitute a postwar New York School that dominated international currents in modern art during the 1950s and 1960s.
The meeting in Paris of Alexander Calder and Ellsworth
Kelly, their subsequent friendship, and their artistic exchanges form a
special bond between two great generations in twentieth-century American
Kelly in Color: Prints from Gemini G.E.L., 1970-2004
March 4 - May 15, 2005
In the early 1950s, Ellsworth Kelly created a new type of abstraction that combined pure and emphatic shape with vibrant color. With no intent to make paintings, sculptures or prints that depicted the world or told stories, he wished to provide viewers with a joyful art that celebrated perceptual experience, In fact, Kelly's art is grounded in his visual observations, often chance encounters, of shapes in nature that he finds compelling. His abstract art is a distillation of the experiences. The connections between seen and abstracted form are evident in the simplified forms of the plant lithographs.
These large scale abstract prints in this exhibition form
a chronological survey of work done in collaboration with Gemini G.E.L.
in Los Angeles, where Kelly has made the majority of his prints. Making
prints for over four decades, Kelly is considered one of the most important
American artists of this medium today.
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