Today marks the 100th birthday of the late American artist and painter, Ellsworth Kelly best known for his freestanding geometric sculptures and bold-colored paneled works. Born in 1923, Kelly served in World War II, and took up a career as an artist producing works that were abstractions of his observations of the world. To mark this momentous occasion and celebrate Kelly’s career, several exhibits of his work are staged in museums, cultural institutions, and other buildings. In addition to the exhibitions and retrospectives happening around the country, New York City’s museums including The Whitney, The Museum of Modern Art, and The Met have rallied and officially named today, May 31, Ellsworth Kelly Day. Mayor Eric Adams announced the title this morning, along with the mayors of both Chicago and Austin.
At the SOM-designed Lever House in Midtown, several of Kelly’s sculptures are interspersed within the courtyards, lobbies, and public-facing corridors to mark the inaugural exhibition at the recently-restored office building. It is the first major showing of the pieces since a 1982 exhibition at The Whitney Museum of American Art. The works include freestanding, three-dimensional shapes, including rectangles, triangles, and curved forms made out of aluminum, bronze, and wood. The works were all made within the last three decades of his career, from 1982 to his death in 2015. These sculptures will be on view until May 2024.
The MoMA is also displaying its own set of Kelly’s work through June 11. The wall pieces are all staged within the museum’s The Donald and Catherine Marron Family Atrium on the second floor. Among the works on view is Kelly’s first sculpture. Aptly named Sculpture for a Large Wall, it was conceived for the Philadelphia’s Transportation Building in 1957; it features a set of 104 quadrilateral aluminum panels that can be positioned and tilted at various angles. Alongside the wall sculpture are his paintings Spectrum IV (1967), a square-shaped painting featuring the colors of the rainbow, and Chatham VI (1971), a piece comprising red and blue rectangles. The artist’s process is on view on the fourth floor in Gallery 416: Ellsworth Kelly’s Sketchbooks.
At the Glenstone Museum, Ellsworth Kelly at 100 exhibits around 70 works taken from both the museum’s own collection as well as those of international museum lenders. As one of the largest retrospectives of the artist’s work, the exhibition charts a path through his past and serves as an exploration of the pivotal points of his career. In addition to drawings, paintings, and wall panels, there are works that span the floor of the gallery. The exhibit will begin be on display from May 4 to March 2024, and will then travel to the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, then on to the Fire Station Doha, Qatar.
Kelly’s husband Jack Shear has made a generous donation of Kelly’s work to The Philadelphia Museum of Art, which are now on display in Ellsworth Kelly: Reflections on Water and Other Early Drawings until October 15, and Ellsworth Kelly: Paris: New York, an ongoing show. Among the donation are a set of drawings along with a related painting and sculpture, all of which will be shown in the museum’s newly endowed Jennifer Rice and Michael Forman Gallery, which is currently dedicated to Kelly’s work and legacy.
Other exhibits spotlighting Kelly’s work opening this year include an exhibition of Kelly’s Portrait Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago beginning on July 1 and a display of Kelly’s States of the River at the Edward Hopper House Museum & Study Center showing from June 29 to October 29. The Ellsworth Kelly Foundation has published a comprehensive list of events and exhibitions happening this year to commemorate the artist’s life.