Matthew Marks Gallery

New York Drawings 1954–1962


By Richard Shiff

Clothbound with jacket
196 pages
110 images
11½ × 10½ inches; 29 × 27 cm
ISBN 9873791349657

In this groundbreaking new study, Richard Shiff argues that Ellsworth Kelly’s return to New York in 1954 initiated an important shift in the artist’s work: a move from systematic to nonsystematic chance (a ”chancier kind of chance,” in the author‘s words). During the ensuing eight years, the visual vocabulary Kelly had begun developing in France — incidental compositions observed in bridges, windows, discarded envelopes — cohered in an important body of works on paper. Shiff‘s examination of these works yields new insights into the artist’s oeuvre as a whole, an oeuvre that, to date, comprises nearly seven decades of drawings, paintings, prints, and sculptures.

As Shiff explains, Kelly’s vision is “a kind of intuition, a glimpse of what lies beyond habit and conditioning.” Each of these artworks, by transmitting this vision, also transfers Kelly’s intuition, communicating his momentary sensations while still preserving their immediacy. In the intervening decades, Kelly has returned to these drawings repeatedly, transforming many of them into large-scale paintings and sculptures — even as recently as 2013, on the cusp of his ninetieth birthday. Although they originate in chance, chance alone can’t make art; so where do these works come from? Kelly has described his process as “translating” rather than making. Perhaps this is why he stands alone in the history of modern art, uncategorizable and without parallel. “Kelly is one of a kind without trying to be,” Shiff explains, “without resorting to the cultural signs of one-of-a-kind-ness.”