Ellsworth Kelly - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 18, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Matthew Marks Gallery, Ellsworth Kelly: Diagonals, February 6 - April 25, 2009, pp. 48-49 (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Morgan Flaconer, "Ellsworth Kelly," in Art World, Issue 11, June/July 2009, pp. 29, 33 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “The curve is a form that exists in nature but can also be manipulated to be abstract. I was fascinated by the different effects you could achieve with a simple curve.”

    Executed in 2008, Ellsworth Kelly’s monumental and lyrical Dark Blue Relief is the culmination of an over sixty-year inquiry into the complex interplay of form, color and line. A seminal late work, it brings Kelly’s lifelong interest in the relief form in dialogue with some of his most signature formal motifs. As with Kelly’s most iconic pieces, Dark Blue Relief is characterized by pure geometric form that is saturated with matte, perfectly calibrated color. Dark Blue Relief notably marks the first of a small group of recent paintings in which Kelly began to re-visit the formal motif of the curve in his oeuvre. Presenting itself in the form of a precisely shaped canvas – one of Kelly’s key innovations – the dramatically curved blue shape is superimposed and gracefully extends beyond the boundary of the white rectangular canvas below. The subtlety of its form thereby fully reveals the artist’s compositional rigor and unparalleled ability to challenge conceptions of space.

    The late artist is universally recognized as one of the most important purveyors of American abstraction, his groundbreaking oeuvre having paved the way for such movements as Minimalism, Hard-Edge and Color Field Painting. Catapulted to critical acclaim in the 1950s, Kelly consistently pursued a distinct abstract language derived from the world around him. "I think that if you can turn off the mind and look only with the eyes”, Kelly once explained, “ultimately everything becomes abstract" (Ellsworth Kelly, quoted in Ellsworth Kelly, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1996, p. 40). It was whilst studying in Paris between 1948 to 1954 that Kelly began his inquiry into the complex interplay between form, color and line - inspired by 20th century Modernists such as Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich, but following in the conceptual footsteps of Jean Arp, Henri Matisse, John Cage and Constantin Brancusi. The Surrealist practice of allowing the "laws of chance" to govern art-making ultimately led Kelly to discover the abstract shapes and forms of everyday life and nature. Kelly’s groundbreaking abstractions are extractions of “readymade” fragments derived from life and filtered through the artist’s vision. Working in opposition to the predominant movement of Abstract Expressionism, Kelly explored the dynamic relationship between shape, form and color in groundbreaking monochromatic panels. Dark Blue Relief is a powerful culmination of Kelly’s longtime interest in the relief form, which he first began to explore with such works as Relief with Blue, 1950, or Blue Tablet, 1962. It perfectly demonstrates Kelly’s philosophy of literal anti-illusionism, whereby form is proposed to be the picture plane in itself. Rather than painting a shape within a square or rectangular frame, Kelly wanted the viewer to identify the canvas as a medium. To this end, Kelly frequently worked with two-color compositions to play with the perceptual ambiguity between positive and negative space. By painting without gestural nuance, he essentially eliminated any figure-ground illusion – ultimately emphasizing the flatness of the canvas and inviting us to consider the work as a "painting-object", one that is situated within the very relationship between the canvas and its architectural (wall) support. From the 1980s onwards Kelly introduced shaped canvases as a way to grant autonomy to the art object.

    Similar to his most iconic works, the form in Dark Blue Relief is not painted within the picture plane but is created by the simple juxtaposition of two painted panels. Importantly, while the curve was a key formal motif in Kelly’s oeuvre since the 1960s, it was only with Dark Blue Relief that Kelly began to re-visit the form again in his later years. As art historian and curator Johanna Burton notably remarked of this series, “What Kelly is producing does not end at the edge…a shadow is thrown, but rather than demarcating the shape and space of the work more clearly, it works to utterly confuse what is being looked at: these are paintings that, in places, don't end or, perhaps, refuse to show how they begin. Rather than a perceptual fluke or an experiment in phenomenology, however, this is, I think, a part of the painting” (Johanna Burton, Ellsworth Kelly: Diagonal, exh. cat., Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, 2009, n.p.).

  • Artist Biography

    Ellsworth Kelly

    American • 1923 - 2015

    Acting as a vital contributor to the Abstract movement, Ellsworth Kelly focused on color and composition. Becoming inspired by ornithology and the bold coloring of birds, Kelly used a two or three pigment color palette — painted flatly and geometrically — on his canvases. While living in Paris, the artist used Monet's late works as a base for experimenting with expressionism and serial work

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Property of the Martin Z. Margulies Collection, Miami


Dark Blue Relief

signed, inscribed and dated "Kelly EK #981 2008" along the overlap; further signed, titled, inscribed and dated "ELLSWORTH KELLY "DARK BLUE RELIEF" 2008 EK #981" on the backing board
oil on canvas, on 2 joined panels
80 x 80 in. (203.2 x 203.2 cm.)
Painted in 2008.

$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for $3,105,000

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2017