Ellsworth Kelly | Wood Sculptures at MFA Boston

Ellsworth Kelly, CurveXXI, Birchwood, 75 x 170 x 3/4", San Francisco Museum of Art / Anonymous Private CollectionOn my recent trip to Boston I was lucky to catch this show of Ellsworth Kelly wood sculptures at the MFA. What engrossed me (beyond the meticulous woodcraft) was the assertive, almost sly decisions he makes that engage the eye and mind even in apparently simple forms. Also the way the color and grains of the woods he chooses read as paintings...painter's sculptures.

I was also surprised to learn that he attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, the same school most of my professors and the founder of the program I attended at Boston University got their rigorous training.
I admire how Mr. Kelly has stuck to himself (and his guns) all these years.

"To a great extent Jasper [Johns] is a literary artist," says Robert Storr, dean of the Yale School of Art, in today's New York Times article by Carol Vogel. "His work is coded with secret messages. Ellsworth is purely a visual artist. With Ellsworth there is no message, just an experience."

I marvel at the word "just" in this sentence. "Just" an experience? That's a mouthful. It's precisely the indescribable series of thoughts and sensations one gets standing in front of something rich and resonant to the eye that lies at the essence of visual art. Someone has to champion the purity of the visual as a language in and of itself, free of exposition, and Ellsworth Kelly follows this visual line with unwavering surety.

The way I see it his elegance is a byproduct of his clarity of thinking. Each idea is somehow necessary. Scanning his work on Google, that blue canvas had to happen, bent at 80°, as did those joined panels of red and green tapered to appear to be receding in perspective, or that tall piece of dark wood, apparently straight yet leading the eye ever so slightly windward at the top...these ideas existed and needed to be found and made visible.

To me they are humorous and sensual, too. While seemingly solemn in their formality and classical in their simplicity, his sculptural paintings embody the essence of sensuality and fun in their exuberant curiosity.

Again and again he finds, reduces, stops short of over-reduction, each solution containing what must be countless revisions and decisions to land it just right. As in any art that is well done, when the piece is finally real you accept its existence as somehow inevitable. The traces of hours and years and machinations and maneuvring that went into it are no longer visible and what remains is a beautiful visual fact.


Ellsworth Kelly | Wood Sculptures
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
September 18, 2011 - March 4, 2012

True to His Abstraction
NYT article by Carol Vogel