Ellsworth Kelly

White Curve


Not on display

Ellsworth Kelly 1923–2015
Support: 1619 × 5131 mm
Purchased 1980

Display caption

Kelly’s unconventionally-shaped work lies somewhere between painting and sculpture. His works don’t literally depict anything but are drawn from observation of both the natural and man-made environment. He derived forms from things he had seen in real life - in this case it was inspired by the hill and valley forms near his home. ‘I think that if you can turn off the mind and look only with the eyes, ultimately everything becomes abstract’, he has said.

Gallery label, October 2016

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Catalogue entry

T03072 WHITE CURVE 1974

Not inscribed
Painted aluminium, 63 1/2 × 202 × 1/8 (162 × 513 × 1)
Purchased from the artist through the Leo Castelli Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1980
Exh: Ellsworth Kelly: Sculptures, Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, March–April 1975 (no catalogue); Artist and Fabricator, Fine Arts Center Gallery, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, September–November 1975 (works not numbered); Ellsworth Kelly: Recent Paintings and Sculptures, Metropolitan Museum, New York, April–June 1979 (works not numbered, repr.); Ellsworth Kelly: Schilderijen en Beelden 1963–1979, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, December 1979–February 1980 (19, repr.); Ellsworth Kelly: Paintings and Sculptures 1963–1979, Hayward Gallery, February–April 1980 (19, repr.); Ellsworth Kelly: Peintures et Sculptures 1968–1979, Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, April–June 1980 (12, repr.)
Lit: Patterson Sims and Emily Rauch Pulitzer, Ellsworth Kelly: Sculpture (exh. catalogue), Whitney Museum, New York, December 1982–February 1983, no.58 in catalogue raisonné, pp.106–7, repr.p.106

'White Curve’ is a form cut out of metal, painted white and attached to the wall.

Kelly's work from the beginning has been an investigation of form and ground, which gradually led him to separate form from ground, a development that results in works that lie between painting and sculpture. This was first achieved in a few works such as ‘Window’, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris (1949), and in the early fifties with paintings made from solid coloured, joined panels. ‘White Plaque, Bridge Arch and Reflection’, 1952–1955, was an early example of a wood cutout shape as a monochrome that uses the wall itself as ground. The first free-standing sculpture as a monochrome shape was ‘Blue Disk’, 1963, in painted aluminum. There followed in 1966 the painting ‘Yellow Piece’, a canvas monochrome.

The genesis of the idea for ‘White Curve’ and other similar metal sculptures can be found in Kelly's paintings using segments of a circle, specifically the ‘Red Curve’, 1972, now in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. ‘Red Curve’ is a horizontal, diamond-shaped canvas; the red area, painted in the lower part of the diamond, becomes the positive form, and the white area above the curve is the negative shape or ground.

When he began to work in metal he decided that the objects would work as simple curves and not as two-part pieces. Thus he uses only the lower semi-circle from the earlier painting (cut out, as it were), and the wall, on which it hangs, now becomes the ground.

The use of metal, which is a thin but stable element, enabled him to space the object from the wall. He had experimented with this earlier in sculptures where panels stand away from the background of the works, as in the relief ‘Blue on Blue’, 1963.

Kelly plans each project carefully, using both scale drawings and full-size paper models for the works. The drawings are executed with a large compass; the radius of the curve in the small drawings is 54in. and in the large 27oin.

'White Curve’ was made from 3/8in. aluminum with angles welded to make brackets and a spacing bar to hold the work parallel to the wall. The paint used is a standard automobile enamel.

Kelly's works have direct references to landscape and to objects around him; his works made in Paris referred to walls, windows, roofs and bridges; the curved series refer to the hill and valley forms near his home in Chatham, New York. This principle of external reference is clearly articulated in the earliest works, and there are some parallels between the simple wooden objects that were made for him at that time and the present objects. Both were made by craftsmen and, whilst their scale is different, Kelly's concern for immaculate craftsmanship and precise forms are manifest. The precision accounts too for the accuracy with which he can elucidate emotional responses from particular works and the high charge given by such apparently simple objects.

There are at this date three other ‘fan’ shaped wall sculptures besides ‘White Curve’:

'Curve III’, 1974, weathering steel, 75 × 170 × 3/4in.
Collection of Mr and Mrs Robert Weiss, Los Angeles, California.
‘Curve XXI’, 1978–80, birchwood, 75 × 170 × 3/4in.
‘Curve XXIV’, 1981, weathering steel, 76 × 228 × 3/8in.
Collection of Mr and Mrs Bagley Wright, Seattle, Washington.

In 1982, a series of twelve ‘fan’ shaped canvases was painted, each a different colour, dimension and radius. Whereas the earlier ‘fans’, both paintings and sculptures, were symmetrical, the 1982 series are not, having the straight edges of differing lengths.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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