Overview

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015)
Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015)
Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015)
3 More
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more
Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015)

Blue Relief Over White

Details
Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015)
Blue Relief Over White
signed, signed with the artist’s initials, inscribed and dated 'Kelly EK #1041 2012' (on the overlap)
oil on two joined canvases mounted on panel
65 x 62 ¼ x 2 ½ in. (165.1 x 158.1 x 6.4 cm.)
Executed in 2012.
Provenance
Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2013
Exhibited
New York, Matthew Marks Gallery, Ellsworth Kelly At Ninety, May-June 2013.
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. Where Christie's has provided a Minimum Price Guarantee it is at risk of making a loss, which can be significant, if the lot fails to sell. Christie's therefore sometimes chooses to share that risk with a third party. In such cases the third party agrees prior to the auction to place an irrevocable written bid on the lot. The third party is therefore committed to bidding on the lot and, even if there are no other bids, buying the lot at the level of the written bid unless there are any higher bids. In doing so, the third party takes on all or part of the risk of the lot not being sold. If the lot is not sold, the third party may incur a loss. The third party will be remunerated in exchange for accepting this risk based on a fixed fee if the third party is the successful bidder or on the final hammer price in the event that the third party is not the successful bidder. The third party may also bid for the lot above the written bid. Where it does so, and is the successful bidder, the fixed fee for taking on the guarantee risk may be netted against the final purchase price.

Third party guarantors are required by us to disclose to anyone they are advising their financial interest in any lots they are guaranteeing. However, for the avoidance of any doubt, if you are advised by or bidding through an agent on a lot identified as being subject to a third party guarantee you should always ask your agent to confirm whether or not he or she has a financial interest in relation to the lot.

Brought to you by

Book an appointment
Book an appointment

Lot Essay

“My forms are geometric, but they don't interact in a geometric sense. They're just forms that exist everywhere, even if you don't see them.” Ellsworth Kelly

Throughout his seventy year career, Ellsworth Kelly sought to undertake a rigorous exploration of line, form, and color. Painted in 2012, Blue Relief Over White—with its large blue curved painted panel placed on top of a larger white canvas ‘ground’—extends his investigations beyond the traditional flat painted surface into a third dimension. The visual intensity of the blue combined with the integrity of the shaped canvases creates, what Jean-Pierre Criqui, curator of contemporary art at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, describes as an “interplay of differences and similarities [that] weaves a work of powerful unity” (J. Criqui, Ellsworth Kelly: At Ninety, New York, 2013).

One constant during Kelly’s life has been his mission to challenge and update the Modernist monochrome. Continuing from Jean Arps’s Constellation Reliefs of the early twentieth century, in works such as Blue Relief Over White, Kelly continues Arp’s dialogues with new modes of abstraction, introducing bold, high-keyed colors into the equation. The intensity of Kelly’s painted surface is the result of the artist laying down numerous layers of oil paint, removing any trace of expressionistic brushwork to leave a surface of pure, unadulterated pigment. Unlike earlier single panel canvases, these conjoined paintings seems to push this field of color outwards, engaging the viewer more directly. As Roberta Smith of the New York Times writes, “The results are not so much paintings as crisp, flat objects devoid of spatial illusion. Yet the best of them are so perfectly made that we tend to forget about their physical nature, concentrating solely on their visual effects instead. Their perfection creates an aura of eternal newness that can sometimes seem antiseptic but just as often is central to their power” (R. Smith, “At Ninty, Still Riveting the Mind’s Eye,” New York Times, June 3, 2013, via https://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/04/arts/design/ellsworth-kelly-on-view-in-new-york. [accessed 9/13/20]).

In Blue Relief Over White, with the juxtaposition of curved and straight lines, pigment becomes form. The curved edges of the blue canvas create shadow and spaces, acting in conjunction with the white canvas below; this creates a form that implies movement — one, however, that has been halted by its own flatness. Kazimir Malevich created such a singular form in the early years of the twentieth century, elemental geometries from which he rarely strayed. Yet when Malevich came into contact with the Italian Futurists’ idea of speed and motion, he created in 1917 a series of dissolving rhombuses that like Kelly’s planes seem a suspension of motility. In the present work, the spectators’ experience of movement becomes crucial to the work’s expressive meaning.

An essential aspect of Kelly’s forms are their totemic quality, the sense of singularities in stasis and internal dualities in counterpoint. Foregrounding form by using vibrant pigment allows the central element to command the space around it, almost in a manner of displacement, and to impose on the viewer the tension of straight and curved lines playing against a flat surface plane. This form is as elegant as it is defiant. For centuries, lines defined perspective and planar surfaces were presented as windows into an illusory world. An enclosing frame bounded this space and signaled where reality ended and illusion began. Kelly complicates this history by removing the frame from what seems an opaque universe, where juxtaposed angles and curves carry no specific reference and recognition is muted. Yet in a work such as Blue Relief Over White, Kelly creates a unified singularity—two shapes, flat, highly finished surfaces, large in scale, and utterly ambiguous in terms of form. This is Kelly’s ambition: “It’s nothing if it isn’t about something you haven’t seen before” (E. Kelly, as quoted by E. C. Baker, Ellsworth Kelly: Recent Paintings and Sculptures, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, April 26-June 24, 1979, p. 8).

More from 20th Century Evening Sale

View All
View All