Audio: Ellsworth Kelly, Untitled
Ellsworth Kelly (b. 1923)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more The Schulhof Collection
Ellsworth Kelly (b. 1923)


Ellsworth Kelly (b. 1923)
stainless steel
47½ x 168 x 104½ in. (120.7 x 426.7 x 265.4 cm.)
Executed in 1987-1988.
Blum Helman Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1988
P. Catton, "From a Long Island Home, Art for Many Collectors," Wall Street Journal, 19 September 2012, p. A17 (illustrated in color).
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

Lot Essay

"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" (E. Kelly, Ellsworth Kelly: Works on Paper, Fort Worth, p. 30-32).

Ellsworth Kelly, throughout his prolific career, has found inspiration in the world around him. In this striking outdoor sculpture, Kelly revisits the motif of his famous Rocker series. But here, Kelly's familiar form exudes a new structural grace and complexity, constructed as an asymmetrical and large-scale form. A characteristically mature work, the formal elements of Untitled seamlessly combine crisp linearity with biomorphic curves. Kelly's 1987 structure stands apart from others in the series by recalling past precedents while it asserts its own modernity, making it vibrate with timeless enigma.

Elegantly composed of stainless steel, Untitled consists of two sheer planes with curved edges that join in a central gable-shaped arc. Gracefully self-supporting on its two half-disc edges, the 1987 work implies the same kinetic movement as in the earlier Rockers. While one steel support rises at a shallow angle, appearing solidly planted on the ground, the other meets the ground at a steep angle and rocks back on its support. Supported on curvilinear edges, the structure touches the ground at highly untraditional load-bearing points, giving the work a floating, weightless quality in spite of its considerable weight and dimensions-14 feet wide, 4 feet tall and almost 9 feet deep. The play of forms and optics at work in Untitled reflects Kelly's comprehensive exploration of freestanding sculpture. The artist composed this 1987 form so its structural character changes depending on varying vantage points. From the side, the sculpture appears generally symmetrical, as in his 1960s sculptures; but as one moves around the work, a frontal view reveals the structure's obvious asymmetry. Consequently, Untitled demands to be viewed in-the-round, since one would critically misunderstand the work if it was viewed from a single vantage point. Because of its size and idiosyncratic shape, one has to constantly reassess the work from different angles. Kelly's play between symmetry and asymmetry allows the elegance of simple shapes to reverberate with unparalleled lyricism.

The Rocker series began in 1959 after Kelly's casual conversation with Agnes Martin, who lived below him on Coenties Slip in Lower Manhattan. Playing with the paper top from a take-out coffee cup, Kelly cut and folded a section of the round object, which he then put on the table and rocked back and forth. Soon after, he constructed his first sculpture-in-the-round, Pony. The title refers to a child's hobby horse with curving rocker supports. In the 1980s, Kelly revisited the rocker motif for the first time since the 1960s and reintroduced the distilled, simple form in sculptures such as Untitled. Kelly's process, isolating a seen object and simplifying its form, is an essential part of the artist's ambition to achieve rational order in his work.

At fourteen feet wide and four feet high, the monumental scale of Untitled places it within his mature period, after his move to Upstate New York in 1970. The rural environment and vast amount of space inspired Kelly to concentrate on large-scale structure with natural, seemingly untreated surfaces and organic, curved forms. Always searching for visually inspiring details in the world around him, his 1970 photograph demonstrates how Kelly elaborated the elemental forms found in nature by adapting them to a sculptural format. The snapshot records the slow curve of the hillside, taken by the artist, from the highway above. Embracing the rural landscape Kelly rejects his earlier systematic and symmetrical formats and instead, began to hand-draw his sculptural forms, creating imperfect, asymmetrical discs rather than circle fragments.

The basic, honest materiality of the steel surfaces is characteristic of his 1980s sculptures: Kelly gave up painted surfaces, instead choosing unvarnished steel, aluminum or bronze. The luminous, vaguely reflective quality of its matte surface belies its significant weight and mass. While weathering steel absorbs light, stainless steel gathers and intensifies luminosity. The work's light reflecting surface is infused with the hues and mood of its idyllic setting: on a bright day, Untitled resembles two sheets of light. According to the changing light of day, the curves play against the sharp angles and cast an ever-changing shadow. During this period in Spencertown, NY, the artist devoted for the first time as much energy to his sculptures as to his painting, producing over sixty percent of his total 140 sculptures. Untitled, created during his most prolific period of art-making, demonstrates his mature mastery of large-scale works.

While Kelly's large-scale sculptures played an important role in his mature work, the artist never allowed his interest in monumental scale to compromise his thoughtful articulation of form. In fact, Untitled's formal and perspectival ambiguity is enhanced by its large size. Reinvigorating the familiar Rocker shape many years later, this 1987 work pays tribute to its sculptural predecessors, while making a thoroughly new and innovative formal statement.

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