The new $1 million Ellsworth Kelly award

Kelly's foundation has passed on $1m to fund an annual award for a mid-career artist’s museum exhibition
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Ellsworth Kelly in his studio, Spencertown, New York, 2009. Photo by Jack Shear.
Ellsworth Kelly in his studio, Spencertown, New York, 2009. Photo by Jack Shear.

In life, Ellsworth Kelly was a remarkably inventive artist, creating hard-edged, colourful compositions that owed as much to his careful observation of the natural world as they did to his contemporaries’ abstract expressionism.

Posthumously, the artist’s foundation is also proving to be equally inventive with its funds. A few days ago the Foundation for Contemporary Arts announced that it had received $1 million, its largest gift ever, from the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation, to fund worthy, difficult-to-finance museum exhibitions for mid-career artist.

 

Chatham X: Black Red, 1971, oil on canvas, 2 joined panels, 108 x 95 3/4 inches, 274.3 x 243.2 cm. Photo credit: courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery. From Ellsworth Kelly
Chatham X: Black Red, 1971, oil on canvas, 2 joined panels, 108 x 95 3/4 inches, 274.3 x 243.2 cm. Photo credit: courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery. From Ellsworth Kelly

The new Ellsworth Kelly Award will be given out annually, to help stage “a solo exhibition by an emerging, mid-career, or under-recognized contemporary visual artist at a regional art museum or university or college art gallery in the United States,” and will focus, in alternate years, on either the eastern or western half of the country.

Its first annual $40,000 grant will go to Give It Or Leave It, a solo exhibition of film, video, and sculpture by 48-year-old Californian filmmaker and artist Cauleen Smith, which will open towards the end of 2018 at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania.

Smith’s films, which deal with racial and sexual identity, psychogeography and afrofuturism, are about as far removed from Kelly’s canvases as is possible. Yet the award demonstrates the Foundation’s commitment to that key stage in an artist’s career which lies between being a hot young talent, and a venerable master within the contemporary canon.

“Ellsworth recognized that a museum exhibition can be transformative for an artist’s career, and this award is intended to provide that opportunity to artists,” said Jack Shear, President of the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation.

 

Yellow with Red Triangle, 1973, oil on canvas, 2 joined panels, 119 x 145 1/2 inches, 302.3 x 369.6 cm. Photo credit: courtesy Corcoran Gallery of Art. From Ellsworth Kelly
Yellow with Red Triangle, 1973, oil on canvas, 2 joined panels, 119 x 145 1/2 inches, 302.3 x 369.6 cm. Photo credit: courtesy Corcoran Gallery of Art. From Ellsworth Kelly

Indeed, it is an opportunity that prominent figures within the art world certainly welcome. “The Directors are pleased that Ellsworth’s long-time support of FCA has culminated in this imaginative award in his name,” said the esteemed painter Jasper Johns, who founded the Foundation for Contemporary Arts with the avant-garde composer and artist John Cage in 1963.

Here's to many more Kelly awards. For greater insight into Ellsworth Kelly’s life and work order a copy of our beautiful monograph here; for more on the kind of work that’s likely to qualify for his new award, order a copy of The 21st Century Art Book.


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