Ellsworth Kelly's "Red, Dark Blue, Dark Green" (Part 1)
Posted by Andrea D. on July 6, 2010 - 3:54pm
Categories: On the Walls


It seems like the art of Ellsworth Kelly is everywhere, particularly around the Metroplex: his Curved Red on Blue has been nestled in a corner of The Modern's galleries for a while now, one of his works just left the Amon Carter (from their American Moderns on Paper exhibit), his Untitled bronze sculpture is in the collection at the Nasher and his Blue Green Black Red: The Dallas Panelsare in the main lobby of the Meyerson in Dallas.  

And now, there is an additional Ellsworth Kelly at The Modern: Red, Dark Blue, Dark Green (1986) is on display in the galleries for the first time in ten years.

It's difficult to discuss Ellsworth Kelly's work without first briefly discussing the state of the art world, and the state of art criticism, during the 1950's. Clement Greenberg, one of the most influential art critics of the time, was proclaiming the artistic value of the Abstract Expressionist movement and, in particular, the work of Jackson Pollock. Greenberg argued that Abstract Expressionist painters were breaking with the tradition of "pure art" that was the established European artistic canon, and were, therefore, "pure" in and of themselves.
Additionally, Greenberg was the first critic to firmly establish a criteria by which abstract art could be judged: 1) it could not be "kitsch", or susceptible to popular consumer culture, 2) it must be true to its material nature, emphasizing the flatness of the canvas or the materiality of the paint in order to make the painting "look" like a painting, 3) it should be devoid of social context, cultural context, or narrative meaning.
Enter Ellsworth Kelly and the Post-Painterly Abstraction artists, who decided to completely reject Clement Greenberg and his criteria for so-called artistic "purity". Kelly, in particular, broke the Greenbergian rule of limiting the flatness of a painting to its edge, a technique which was supposed to establish the work as a self-contained art object. By suggesting a continuation of the painting beyond its frame, Kelly forced the viewer to interact not only with the painting itself, but with the gallery space that surrounds it.
For example, in Red, Dark Blue, Dark Green, Kelly's unusually-shaped canvases are not meant to be seen as individual objects, but as paintings which interact with each other, with the white space of the gallery walls, and with the space between the objects and the viewer. In fact, the wall and the entire gallery space becomes part of the painting, denying it "flatness" and providing the work with spatial context that effectually illustrates Kelly's explorations of different shapes and colors, and how we, as viewers, interact with them.