In Contemporary Foray, Barnes Foundation to Show 65-Foot Ellsworth Kelly Wall Sculpture

This spring, the Barnes Foundation opened its controversial new Philadelphia home to largely rave reviews. But ever sensitive to the virulent criticism surrounding the collection’s move from suburban Merion, Pennsylvania, to the new $100 million museum, Barnes representatives always seem to take pains to pay homage to the institution’s opinionated founder, Albert C. Barnes. So it was at yesterday’s press lunch for the upcoming exhibition, “Ellsworth Kelly: Sculpture on the Wall,” May 4-September 2, 2013, in which executive director Derek Gillman described the “many similarities” between Kelly and Barnes.

Apparently both men had formative experiences while living in Paris, they both loved Picasso, Matisse, and Cezanne, and they both were obsessed with “harmony” — Kelly by integrating a rooms’ walls into his sculptural practice and Barnes by meticulously arranging his paintings into patterns that he believed were vital to experiencing the artwork properly.

Gillman also drew parallels between Kelly’s artistic sensibility and the new building’s modernist architecture. Exhibition details are forthcoming, but the highlight is no doubt Kelly’s 65-by-11-foot “Sculpture for a Large Wall,” 1957, originally commissioned for the Philadelphia Transportation Building and now on long-term loan from the Museum of Modern Art. The 100 multicolored aluminum panels in Kelly’s work commune, Gillman said, with the Barnes Foundation’s new bright, reflective building. “It mirrors the building while being mirrored by it in turn.”

The work will hang at the heart of the special exhibitions gallery so that it “meets the eye directly, just as Kelly wanted it,” said curator Judith Dolkart. Is it what Barnes would have wanted too? Probably not. Then again, the Foundation optimists were sure to point out that the late collector was one of the greatest lovers of contemporary art of his time. Maybe he would have been a Kelly fan.

— Rachel Corbett

(Image: Ellsworth Kelly, “Sculpture for a Large Wall,” 1957. © 2012 Ellsworth Kelly. Photography © 2012 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photography by Matthew Marks Gallery.)