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.
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.