Organized by Ellsworth Kelly’s long-time life partner photographer Jack Shear, Black and White Works at the FLAG Art Foundation sheds light on the pioneer colorist’s paintings using primarily black and white, a body of work occupying one fifth of his entire repertoire. Coinciding with the Blanton Art Museum’s unveiling of Kelly’s monumental 2,715 square-foot architectural work Austin, which also introduced a new path in the late artist’s expansive career, the exhibition proposes a fresh approach Kelly’s legacy. Containing sculptural experimentation and geometric curiosity, the works on view demonstrate his unending interest in pushing the boundaries of abstract precision, architectural balance, and optic illusion within the limits of two seemingly opposite and mute colors. Contrasted with the artist’s signature exuberance and his equally precise monochromatic color palette, the works Shear brought together both evoke characteristics from Kelly’s most iconic while and challenging the viewer to expand their interpretation and appreciation of his larger oeuvre.
With works spanning five decades and various mediums including graphite and photography, the exhibition allows the black and white hues to run as the main thread, while offering a loose documentation of Kelly’s drifts between France and New York over the course of his life. Influenced by plein air Modernist painters, Kelly let the natural beauty of northwest coast of France occupy his interest, creating a body of work in drawing inspired by the region’s coastal charm during the ‘50s. Complimented by black and white photographs the artist took during his sojourn, larger scale paintings on wood or linen with their one of a kind geometric alternatives and meticulous balancing on the other hand further emphasize Kelly’s mastering over the exhibition’s subject colors.
On the second floor, a series of works by five contemporary woman artists bring the conversation around Kelly’s work to contemporary approaches towards material, color and form, demonstrating the ways young artists are still inspired by his legacy. Sam Moyer’s newly-created marble or granite paintings pay homage to Kelly’s past homes in New York; however, on the surface, the works are visual delights simultaneously containing the heftiness of marble or granite alongside airy jubilance of bright colors of yellow or blue for which Kelly is known.
N. Dash’s piles of canvases in towering heights present various textures and materials, signifying not only different artistic choices, but also traces of bodily and personal elements. Hand-collected in New Mexico where the artist lives and works, adobe, for example, appears in relation to gesso or granite similar to fascination and dependence Kelly held for his cities of residence.
Ellsworth Kelly: Black & White Works and Painting/Object are on view at the FLAG Art Foundation through May 19, 2018.
— O.C. Yerebakan
FLAG Art Foundation [Exhibition Site]