Jill Krementz covers Ellsworth Kelly Plant Drawings

Entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Ellsworth Kelly Plant Drawings
The Metropolitan Museum
June 5-September 3, 2012

Ellsworth Kelly (b. 1923), who has recently celebrated his 89th birthday, is one of the foremost artists of our day. While best known for his abstract paintings, Kelly has made figurative drawings throughout his seven-decade career, particularly of plants, flowers, and leaves.

Now, for the first time, a major museum has mounted an exhibition dedicated exclusively to the artist's beautiful drawings and watercolors of various foliages. Organized by Marla Prather with the assistance of Ian Alteveer, the show features 80 of these works ranging from seaweed suspended in Kelly's studio to a flower discovered on the roadside.  As Kelly once said, “I don't want to explain the world, just try to arrange what's in my visual reach.”

Although Kelly occasionally uses brushed color in his exquisite depictions of blossoms, leaves, or fruit, he generally favors contour drawing in graphite and ink.  The selection begins in 1948 during the artist's early days in Paris to his most recent work made in upstate New York where he has lived since 1970 with photographer Jack Shear.

A sculpture by Ellsworth Kelly has recently been stationed in the garden of the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia and later this month three more sculptures will be on display in the atrium of the Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan.
The Ellsworth Kelly exhibition is on the
first floor.
Ellsworth Kelly, Chatham, New York, 1973.
Mary Flanagan is one of the Met's press officers. Alexandra Kozlakowski, the chief press officer for this show. Kozlakowski has just started at the Met after working at Estee Lauder for many years. She is a former art history student.
Marla Prather, Curator of the Met's Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art. Ms. Prather has organized the exhibition, Ellsworth Kelly Plant Drawings.

"We've started the exhibit with an abstract painting (1963) from our collection to show that we've supported Ellsworth Kelly from the very beginning. The Met purchased this painting the year it was made."
Ian Alteveer, assistant curator on the show.
Prather addressing members of the press:

"I call this show a 'garden of delight.' Ellsworth is 89 and he has been making these plant drawings since 1949. There's never been a retrospective of this body of his work. Kelly started drawing plants in Boston, then he moved to Paris after the war as did so many soldiers on the GI Bill. As you will see, he makes you see the world in different ways .... In 1998 Ellsworth's sculptures were shown on the roof of the Met."
Marla Prather talks about Trunk with Leaves, 1949,
watercolor on paper. It is one of only 11 drawings in color on exhibit.
Sten M. Rosenlund from Sweden.
BBC's Michael Maher. Calla Lily IV, 2008
Graphite on paper, one of four sheets
Gingo, 1973
Ink on paper
Lily, 1960
Watercolor on paper
View of gallery.
Branch of Leaves, 1992
Graphite on paper
Large Leaf, St. Martin, 1996
Graphite on paper
Poppy, 2012
Graphite on paper
Poppy II, Nepenthe, Big Sur, 1984
Graphite on paper
Cactus, 1980
Graphite on paper
Beanstalk, 1999
Graphite on paper
Branch of Leaves, 2005
Graphite on paper
James Gardner writes for the Weekly Standard, Antiques, and The Wall Street Journal, among others. Kit Brenner is an 18-year-old Met intern who has only been working at the museum for a few weeks after finishing high school. Following her internship, Brenner is doing a gap year in Berlin and "hopefully working at a museum." Then she is off to the University of Chicago.

"I love Kelly's work. Every piece has its own personality."
View of gallery.
Beanstalk, 1999, is on right.
Ariella Budick, Arts Writer for the Financial Times.
Siberian Iris, 1989
Ink on paper
Siberian Iris, 1989
Graphite on paper
Christine Ritenis writes for Connoisseur Magazine.
"I'm enjoying the relaxing nature of Ellsworth Kelly's work."
Lidia Guibert Ferrara is the New York Correspondent for VERVE, an Italian monthly magazine published in Milan.
Marla Prather:

"You see the botanical world very differently after you've lived in Ellsworth's world."

"This was a very easy show to install. Working with Ellsworth, it took about a week."

"Ellsworth calls his plant paintings 'portraits.' He works very quickly and doesn't discard. And he doesn't erase."

On the left, Wild Grape, 1961. Ink on paper
On the right, Two Lilies, 1980. Graphite on paper

The installation is a visual delight.
Wild Grape, 1961
Ink on paper
Wild Grape, 1961
Watercolor on paper
Banana Leaf, 1992
Graphite on paper
Installation view.
Grass, 1961
Watercolor on paper
Briar, 1961
ink on paper
Catalpa, 1964
Graphic on paper
Four Oranges, 1968
Graphite on paper
Wild Grapes, 1980
Graphite on paper
Water Lily, 1968
Graphite on paper
Lily, 1961
Graphite on paper
Seaweed, 1949
Watercolor, gauche, and ink on paper
Seaweed, 1949
Graphite on paper
Seaweed, 1949
Ink on paper
Teasel, 1949,
Ink with dry stylus on paper
Part of the joy of this exhibition is seeing these lovely juxtapositions.
Apples, 1949
Graphite on paper
Apples, 1949
Watercolor and pencil
Ailanthus, 1948
Pencil
Leaves, Patterson, 1957
Ink on paper
Four Sunflowers, 1957
Graphite on paper
Sweet Pea, 1960
Graphite on paper
Sunflower, 1957
Watercolor on paper
Tulip, 1959
Watercolor on paper
Marla Prather talking about Castor Bean, 1961, and telling us that she and Ellsworth, when hanging the show, were trying to figure out exactly where he started and finished this drawing. She thinks it might be where her finger is pointing, but neither of them were certain.
Lance Esplund, art critic for Bloomberg News.
Jan Aaron, freelance critic and reviewer for Education Update. Marla Prather and Dan Bischoff from the Newark Star Ledger. Bischoff was National Affairs Editor of the Village Voice from 1985-1993.
Barrymore Scherer, who writes for The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Scherer is wearing a sprig of lavender from his garden.
Lance Esplund and Michael Maher.

The drawing on the wall to the right is Orange, 1968, and is owned by the Met.
Lee Rosenbaum, who blogs for CultureGrrl. Walter Robinson, Editor of Artnet Magazine.
Phyllis Tuchman is an art historian and a close friend of Ellsworth Kelly's. She is working on an essay about the abstract ceramics artist Ken Price. Considered a 20th-century American master in sculpture, Price died in February of this year at his home in New Mexico. He was 77.

The artist's upcoming career retrospective is scheduled to open in Los Angeles later this year and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2013.
Artnet Magazine's Walter Robinson and Phyllis Tuchman.
Arriving home, one of my front steps looked just like an Ellsworth Kelly. After you see this exhibition at the Met I suspect a lot of you will be seeing an Ellsworth Kelly still life everywhere you look.
Click here for Part 2 of Ellsworth Kelly Plant Drawings.

Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz: all rights reserved.