Museum of Modern Art opens Ellsworth Kelly: Chatham Series

The Museum of Modern Art presents Ellsworth Kelly: Chatham Series, an exhibition on view from May 23 through September 8, 2013.

In 1970, Ellsworth Kelly (b. 1923) left Manhattan, where he had been living and working since the mid-1950s, to settle in Columbia County in upstate New York. Kelly purchased a home on a quiet road in Spencertown, and soon found a studio in the nearby town of Chatham, above a row of storefronts in a building on Main Street. The second-floor space had served a variety of functions in its hundred-year history, ranging from banquet hall to cinema to roller rink. Its spacious proportions and its isolation from the bustle of the art world provided the opportunity for a fertile new chapter in Kelly’s art.

After working in Chatham for about a year, Kelly embarked upon an ambitious series of 14 paintings that he would name for the town. Each of the works in the Chatham Series takes the form of an inverted ell made of two joined canvases, each a different color: black, white, red, yellow, blue, or green. These compositions grew from an intuitive process rather than a system: the final paintings are based on studies Kelly made by manipulating paired pieces of colored paper, adjusting the colors and their proportions until he was pleased.

By the time he created the Chatham Series, Kelly was well established as an artist. Born in Newburgh, New York, and trained at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, he first developed his abstract vocabulary of line, form, and color while living and working in Paris, from 1948 to 1954. Resolving to make what he described as “anonymous” work, Kelly set out to conceal any trace of a personal painterly gesture in his canvases. During this formative period Kelly also began to explore the joining of monochrome expanses together to create multipanel works, an approach that has endured throughout his career.

The Chatham Series was first exhibited at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, in 1972, one year after the works were completed. At the close of the show, the 14 paintings went separate ways. Here, they are reunited for the first time.