Monday, July 9, 2012

Ellsworth Kelly, Curves on White (Four Panels), 2012 Galerie Marian Goodman, Paris

Ellsworth Kelly, Curves on White (Four Panels), 2012
The four panels in Ellsworth Kelly's current Paris exhibition literally burst off the walls and fill the sunlight-bathed ground floor space of Marian Goodman's gallery in the Marais. They fill the already luminous space with their dazzling colors, blinding the spectator with their force and intensity on a perfect Paris summer's day. The four panels, one on each wall, envelope us, inviting us to fall into - most seductively - the red, to the point where we are no longer able to see the white panel, which is both background and plinth for the vibrant red curve. Up close, the white panel on which the color is mounted becomes one with the wall, the red bulges out, becoming increasingly concave as we approach it.

Installation View
Characteristic of Kelly's individually shaped, single color panels, when I stare too long I begin to see the black spots which are really my retina in illusory reflection on the colored panel. I look away, and not surprisingly, the vision persists. The intensity of the persistence of vision is dependent on the color, its relationship to light, the angle from which I approach the piece, the shape and orientation of the colored panel, its placement in the space, the presence or absence of light coming in the skylight. Who would have thought that these otherwise sparse painted panels could be so complicated, and our vision of them dependent on so many variant factors? Who would believe that shape, color, form, light as the substance of painting stripped to its non-decorative, could be so fascinating?

Installation View
But these works are not really about painting, at least, they are not about paint. For in their sculptural presence the panels become, at times, no more than light. The shadow cast by the elliptical color on the white panel, which in turn casts its shadow on the wall, give dimensionality to white. The sun brings the white panel as plinth into existence and the colored one a new dimensionality, when at other moments, white melts into the wall and we are left to examine the colored panel as a painting. Kelly thus uses light to give dimensionality to painting, objecthood to color. And yet, the relationship between support and wall, between painting and sculpture, color and form, all these are the fundamental issues of painting, not sculpture. 
Installation View
It is true that Kelly's work refuses to fit neatly into any of the prescribed categories for painting given to us by art history and criticism. But what struck me when I was immersed in the excitement of this environment created solely through the interaction of color and light, was how the discourses engaged in by the paintings were strictly intellectual. Like the postwar experiments in the conceptual and optical dimensions of painting in an effort to push at its boundaries, Curves on White (Four Panels) retains all of the intellectuality, the refusal of gesture - what today is called "anonymity" - and the scientific, mathematical, anti-expressionism of 1950s and 1960s American painting. While these four panels may elude comfortable categorization, they are every bit the epitome of the world from which they come. 

All images courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery

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