Don’t Miss – Middlesbrough, UK: Ellsworth Kelly at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art through February 21, 2010

February 15th, 2010

Untitled, Ellsworth Kelly (1959) via Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art

Currently showing at the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, England are a selection of early, unseen drawings by one of the most influential American artists of the 20th century – Ellsworth Kelly. Executed by Kelly between 1954 and 1962, the drawings have traveled to Middlesbrough directly from the artist’s New York studio where they have been hidden for more than 50 years. The 23 works are all studies for larger pieces and have been presented now, for the first time ever, to illustrate an important period in the artist’s career during which he pioneered his much-admired abstract style that has been integral to the evolution post-war American art.

More text, images and related links after the jump….

Blue, Green and Red, Ellsworth Kelly (1964) via The Indpendent

Middlebrough Institute of Modern Art (mima) designed by Erick van Egeraat

Now in his 86th year, Ellsworth Kelly began his artistic career in Paris, where he lived and worked for six years from 1948-54. There he was influenced by European modernism, particularly the work of artists Jean Arp, Constantin Brancusi, Alexander Calder, Henri Matisse, Francis Picabia and Pablo Picasso. Many of the drawings on show in Middlesbrough represent the first things Kelly was doing when he moved back to New York City in 1954 – a time when Abstract Expressionism was dominant. Upon his return Kelly quickly fell into a community of young artists who were working in the shadows of the stars of Abstraction Expressionism, such as Willem de Kooning, who were also living in the city. Kelly’s pack included Bob Indiana, Agnes Martin, James Rosenquist, Jack Youngerman, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns – the group lived and worked in large lofts near Wall Street and it was here that Kelly fervently endeavored to create a new abstraction, one that celebrated pure colour and shape while remaining rooted in the natural world.

Fourteen Projects, Ellsworth Kelly (1955) via Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art

None of the drawings on display are bigger than one-foot square and use a variety of techniques including ink, graphite, oil paint and collage. Described recently by Kelly as “two of the most revealing and important drawings made at that time,” two of the works in the show, Untitled (1957) and Untitled (1959) have been purchased with funding from the Art Fund International scheme – a charity established by The Art Fund in 2007 to encourage a radical change in the scale and ambition of public collections of international contemporary art throughout the UK. Five UK museums were allocated £1million each to help build their collections, and MIMA, one of these chosen five, is using the donation to secure drawings by living artists from both North and South America. Already, the museum has acquired 11 works by influential American artists who include Robert Gober, Paul Sharits, Robert Smithson and Kara Walker.

Untitled, Ellsworth Kelly (1957) via Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art

Blue Form with Red and Orange, Ellsworth Kelly (1960) via Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art

The exhibition will travel to the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin from 17th March 2010 to 20th June 2010.

Related Links:
Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA) Homepage

The Art Fund International
Primary Colours: Ellsworth Kelly’s unseen early drawings
[The Independent]
Ellsworth Kelly: America in the abstract [Times Online]
Middlesbrough gallery scores Ellsworth Kelly coup [The Guardian]
MIMA accquires Ellsworth Kelly works []