ELLSWORTH KELLY at Matthew Marks

Ellsworth Kelly, Blue Green Black Red, 2007, 90 1/2 x 71 1/8 inches, oil on four joined canvases

This month, Chelsea seems dominated by venerable artists including Robert Irwin, Robert Barry, Imi Knoebel, a magnificent Piero Manzoni survey (posts on these shows to come), and in all three of Matthew Marks' spaces, a selection of early and late works by Ellsworth Kelly. The large 22nd Street space is dedicated to a recent series called Diagonals, in which Kelly explores a deceptively simple configuration comprised of two rectangular panels, one square to the floor, the other placed in front of the first at a diagonal. The two panels are different colors, usually the back one is white with the front panel being either black or a highly saturated yellow, red or blue. The thickness of the layered panels casts interesting shadows on the wall, and the cool natural light from the skylights resonates in a beautiful way with the yellow pieces, causing them to float in an ambiguous space. On 24th Street, a more diverse and interesting selection of recent pieces is shown -- four large works, each with a different configuration -- a diagonal relief, a large square with curving blue shape, a horizontally aligned triptych, and a four-panel vertical stack. They represent a sort of "greatest hits" of Kelly configurations. The vertical stack is a particularly striking piece with highly saturated blue, green, and red, intensified by a large area of black. Each of the four canvases carries a single color. The surfaces, as in all of Kelly's paintings are flat and neutral, but not slick -- resolute but somehow fragile, vulnerable. This painting harks back to Kelly's earliest multiple panel works, and is a perfect bridge to the real jewel of this show, which is a wonderful selection of small works on paper from the '50s in the small space on 22nd Street.

Ellsworth Kelly, Untitled, 1957, 11 7/8 x 7 inches, ink on paper

Ellsworth Kelly, White Bands on Yellow, 1959, 11 1/8 x 8 1/2 inches, graphite & collage on paper

The 24 works in this group reveal the young Kelly in Paris, working out his idiom in myriad variations -- they are quick, loose, open, adventurous, and acute. What we see is the foundation of Kelly's development as one of the most important and original artists of his generation.