The Artist Initiative with Ellsworth Kelly

by Robin Clark, September 2015

A semi-circle of empty chairs is set up in a white gallery filled with colorful paintings

Photo: Don Ross

The landmark acquisition of twenty-two works from Ellsworth Kelly’s personal collection in 1999 marked one of the most significant commitments any museum has made to a living artist. Additional Kelly works coming to the museum from the Fisher Collection will result in combined holdings that span more than five decades and feature important examples from all stages of the artist’s career, with a particular strength in works made in Paris between 1948 and 1954. The Artist Initiative team is working closely with the artist and his studio in preparation for a major installation in the new SFMOMA galleries. When the expanded museum reopens, four large galleries will be devoted to Kelly, immersing visitors in the full spectrum of his work.

A large blue painting with a black stripe down the middle is loaded onto a palette for transport in an art storage facility

Photo: Don Ross

In December 2014, the Artist Initiative convened a colloquium of curators, art historians, conservators, assistants from Ellsworth Kelly’s studio, and the director of the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation for an intensive consideration of Kelly’s art.

A group of people sitting in chairs arranged in a circle in a white gallery filled with colorful paintings

Photo: Don Ross

Topics addressed during the colloquium included the development of Kelly’s painting techniques, his approach to color and scale, and his holistic approach to installing his work, particularly regarding the relationships between the works and the surrounding architecture. Participants also considered Kelly’s practice of building models of his exhibitions in advance and then intuitively adjusting planned installations on site, as well as his attitude toward the aging of the works’ surfaces.

Three women look down into a model gallery with miniature paintings installed throughout

Photo: Don Ross

The Artist Initiative’s work with Ellsworth Kelly introduces a vital new model for long-term museum stewardship of a signature collection. We will present Kelly’s work in depth for many years, rotating installations to enliven the galleries and to offer different perspectives on his paintings and sculptures. By sharing our research and conversations with the artist through gallery presentations and future online features, we hope to enrich our visitors’ experiences and increase understanding of these exceptional artworks.


Robin Clark

Robin Clark

Robin Clark is the director of the Artist Initiative at SFMOMA.

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Ellsworth Kelly: 1923-2015

The American artist Ellsworth Kelly (May 31, 1923–December 27, 2015) has passed away at the age of ninety-two. In his abstractions, Kelly distilled details of the world into their simplest form. He explored chance elements in his compositions, eliminated any visible brushwork from his solid color fields, and eventually did away with the traditional square-canvas format altogether. A significant group of Ellsworth Kelly's works will be on view in the new SFMOMA.

"There was so much to see, and it all looked fantastic to me." —Ellsworth Kelly

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