In 1970, the American artist Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) wrote, “Everywhere I looked, everything I saw became something to be made, and it had to be exactly as it was, with nothing added. It was a new freedom; there was no longer the need to compose. The subject was there already made, and I could take from everything.” For Kelly, as for the Shakers, there was no need to invent or embellish.
Kelly and his partner, photographer Jack Shear, began collecting Shaker objects in 1970, and kept them in their home in Columbia County, New York, until they were donated to the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon after Kelly’s death in 2015. Line and Curve brings together Shaker objects from the Kelly and Shear Shaker Collection and a selection of iconic Kelly prints from the 1960s – 1980s.
The Shaker objects included provide an overview of Shaker design and aesthetics. Featured is Kelly’s first Shaker acquisition, a nine-foot long worktable purchased in 1970 and used throughout his life. A rare oval box is reminiscent of shapes that can be found in Kelly’s prints, as are the simple lines of a two-drawer chest or the curved slats of a chair. This juxtaposition of the curved and the straight is a hallmark of Kelly’s work. Although Kelly did not draw direct inspiration from the simplicity of Shaker design, the aesthetic resonated harmoniously with his art. Looking back, it was easy for him to find parallels between works he had created and the colors, shapes, and organizational design of Shaker pieces with which he lived.
When talking about his approach to making art in relation to Shaker design in 2010, Kelly discussed the reductive quality inherent in both, noting that it is not what has been taken out of a painting or object, but it is what has not been put in. Line and Curve provides a unique opportunity to observe the balance of simplicity and harmony that exists in both Kelly’s prints and Shaker works.
Line and Curve: The Ellsworth Kelly and Jack Shear Shaker Collection from Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon with Prints by Ellsworth Kelly was developed by Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon and Jeff Bailey Gallery. Online catalogue available here.
Ellsworth Kelly (b. 1923 Newburgh, New York; d. 2015 Spencertown, New York) has been the subject of major exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art (New York), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York), and Whitney Museum of American Art (New York). He has mounted solo shows at Haus der Kunst (Munich), Menil Collection (Houston), National Gallery of Art (Washington DC), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Tate Liverpool, Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), and many other institutions around the world. Museums that own his work include the Centre Pompidou (Paris), Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Madrid), Museum of Modern Art (New York), and Tate Modern (London). The French government has awarded Kelly three medals, including the Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres in 2002; in 2013 President Obama awarded him the National Medal of Arts. In February 2018, the Blanton Museum of Art (Austin) unveiled a freestanding, monumental building designed by Kelly—a space for joy and contemplation—with colored glass windows, a totemic redwood sculpture, and fourteen black-and-white marble panels.
The exhibition was on view at the Jeff Bailey Gallery, Hudson, NY, March 24 – May 13, 2018, and at the New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, CT, July 13, 2018–June 30, 2019.