Philly Art Museum now has a permanent home for Ellsworth Kelly

The PMA is permanently giving a gallery over to the work of the late abstract minimalist, on the centenary of his birth.

Piece of abstract artwork

'Light Reflection on Water' by Ellsworth Kelly, 1950. (Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art)

The Philadelphia Museum of Art now has a gallery devoted permanently to the late abstract artist Ellsworth Kelly.

On the anniversary of his centenary – he was born May 31, 1923 – the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation has given away $2,750,000 in grants to 50 selected museums around the country, plus $16 million worth of artwork by Kelly, known for his minimalist work.

The PMA is one of those chosen museums which will receive a gift of $100,000. It comes at the same time as an endowment by a pair of museum board members to dedicate a gallery in the PMA for Kelly’s work in perpetuity: Gallery 275, now called the Jennifer Rice and Michael Forman Gallery.

“Needless to say, I am thrilled,” said Jack Shear, Kelly’s widower and president of the Kelly Foundation. “The PMA was such an important place for Ellsworth, going back to his years-long friendship with [former] director Anne d’Harnoncourt. That it is happening in Ellsworth’s centennial year is truly special.”

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Weathered Steel by Ellsworth Kelly. (Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art)

The Museum has also received a gift of 18 drawings, the oil painting “Seaweed” (1949), and the steel sculpture “Curve I” (1973). Many of the drawings had already been loaned to the museum by Shear for the show “Ellsworth Kelly: Reflections on Water and Other Early Drawings,” which opened on April 22.

Kelly was based in New York state for most of his life, but he had a long relationship with Philadelphia. The city gave the artist his first public commission in 1957: “Sculpture for Large Wall” at the old Transportation Building at Penn Center. In 2012, his 40-foot tall sculpture “Barnes Totem” was installed outside the Barnes Foundation. A steel sheet cut into a curved shape, “Curve I,” rests in the sculpture garden at PMA, which has 49 pieces by Kelly inside, in its collection.

“Years ago we had an opportunity to work closely with Ellsworth Kelly himself to select some works from the years he spent in Paris, from 1948 until 1954, and to place them on view,” said PMA chief curator Carlos Basualdo, referring to the 2006 exhibition “Paris: New York.”

“This extraordinary gift and endowment renew and deepen our commitment to the artist and his legacy,” he said.

Piece of abstract artwork
‘Shelled Bunker’ by Ellsworth Kelly. (Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art)

The PMA is one of five museums receiving the largest, $100,000 grants, including the Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum. A celebration of Kelly’s centennial is planned this year starting May 31 across several museums, including Art Institute of Chicago, Glenstone Museum (Maryland), and The Museum of Modern Art.

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