Line and Curve

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LINE AND CURVE The Ellsworth Kelly and Jack Shear Shaker Collection from Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon with Prints by Ellsworth Kelly


Jeff Bailey Gallery and Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon are pleased to present an exhibition of the Ellsworth Kelly and Jack Shear Shaker Collection with a selection of iconic Kelly prints from the 1960s through the 1980s. Generously donated to the Museum in 2016, the Shaker objects provide an overview of Shaker design and aesthetics. Featured is Kelly’s worktable, purchased in 1970 near Kelly’s home in Columbia County and used throughout his life. A rare oval box is reminiscent of shapes that can be found in Kelly’s prints, as are the simple lines of a work table and the curved slats of a chair. This juxtaposition of the curved and the straight is a hallmark of Kelly’s work. When talking about his approach to making art in relation to Shaker design in 2011, Kelly discussed the reductive quality inherent in both, noting that it isn’t what has been taken out of a painting or object, but it’s what hasn’t been put in. A balance of simplicity and harmony exist in both. Kelly’s and Shear’s support of the Museum goes back decades. Shear’s photographs of Shaker sites were exhibited at the Museum in 1991. Their upstate residence is not far from the original seat of the American Shakers in New Lebanon, New York, now a National Historic Landmark stewarded by the Shaker Museum.

Left: Ellsworth Kelly outside his studio, 13 Main Street, Chatham, New York, 1970

Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon is dedicated to preserving the history of the Shakers, including their furniture and architecture as well as their values of inclusion, innovation, integrity, and conviction. It stewards the historic site in New Lebanon, New York, which is open year-round for recreation and self-guided tours, and offers tours, exhibitions, and public programs seasonally. The museum also has a campus in Old Chatham, New York, open year round by appointment, where the administrative offices, collections, library, and archives are housed. The museum’s collection of over 56,000 Shaker items is the most comprehensive collection of its kind in the world. Ellsworth Kelly (b. 1923 Newburgh, New York; d. 2015 Spencertown, New York) has been the subject of major exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art (New York), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York), and Whitney Museum of American Art (New York). He has mounted solo shows at Haus der Kunst (Munich), Menil Collection (Houston), National Gallery of Art (Washington DC), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Tate Liverpool, Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), and many other institutions around the world. Museums that own his work include the Centre Pompidou (Paris), Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Madrid), Museum of Modern Art (New York), and Tate Modern (London). The French government has awarded Kelly three medals, including the Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres in 2002; in 2013 President Obama awarded him the National Medal of Arts. In February 2018, the Blanton Museum of Art (Austin) unveiled a freestanding, monumental building designed by Kelly—a space for joy and contemplation—with colored glass windows, a totemic redwood sculpture, and fourteen black-and-white marble panels. Ellsworth Kelly Blue with Black I, 1972-74 Lithograph on Special Arjomari paper 42 1/2 x 37 5/16 inches (108 x 106.7 cm) Edition of 50 Artwork © Ellsworth Kelly Foundation and Gemini G.E.L. Image: courtesy Marquand, Seattle

Installation view, Jeff Bailey Gallery

Installation view, Jeff Bailey Gallery

Installation view, Jeff Bailey Gallery

Ellsworth Kelly Red Curve, 1988 Lithograph on Arches 88 paper 26 x 84 inches (66 x 213.4 cm) Edition of 25 Artwork Š Ellsworth Kelly Foundation and Gemini G.E.L. Image: courtesy Marquand, Seattle

Installation view, Jeff Bailey Gallery

Ellsworth Kelly and Shaker Furniture Maxwell Taylor-Milner In 1970, not long after moving his studio upstate, from New York City to the hamlet of Spencertown, Ellsworth Kelly bought a table. At first glance, it could be one of a hundred near-identical antique tables: a bit worn, a bit weathered, about the size of a ten-person dining table, medium brown. At nine feet long and just under three wide, the top, made of three pine planks of three different widths framed by a narrow piece of perpendicular trim at each end, seems to float on a shallow beech apron. The outer corner of each leg is flush with the apron, defining its rectangle rather than punctuating it. The inner faces of each leg are tapered, so the negative space formed between each are trapezoidal rather than rectangular. This in turn creates an optical illusion, that each leg is angled slightly out, a vector instead of a pillar, lifting the table up instead of merely supporting its weight. Rather than one in a hundred, it is actually one of three Shaker tables, now differentiated by time and refinishings, all made around 1835 in the Shaker settlement at Mount Lebanon, New York. Kelly wanted it immediately. The Shakers, formally known as the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, were a millennialist Christian sect, established in England in 1747 as a more charismatic alternative to the Church of England. Inspired by a vision, Mother Ann Lee, the movement’s most important leader, left England for America in 1774, where she, with a small group of others, would found the first Shaker settlement at Watervliet, outside present-day Albany, New York. Hailed as both the second coming of Christ and Christ’s female counterpart, Ann Lee’s revelations were the basis for the enduring Shaker principles of celibacy, gender equality, pacifism and communal living. In order to better uphold these principles, the Shakers created their own, self-sufficient communities, separate from “the world.” In order to maintain their self-sufficiency, and later to supplement it, the Shakers made and sold medicines, seeds, textiles, produce, and, most famously, furniture. From the outset, the Shakers believed they were living in the Millennium, the thousand-year Golden Age of Christ’s reign prior to Judgment Day. As a result, it was the duty of each believer to embody that golden age, and to strive for perfection in all things. While worship was the most important activity in Shaker communities, their devotion is best witnessed by their material production, especially the meticulous craftsmanship of their furniture. As Mary Lyn Ray writes, “Because the believer ‘put his hands to work and heart to God,’ this furniture has also been termed ‘religion in wood.’ For some, manufacture of furniture was no longer an ordinary assignment of making a

table or case of drawers but became an act of worship” (Ray 108). Their dedication to the task was the measure of their devotion, and the means by which the Kingdom of God would be realized. In keeping with the Shaker sequestration from the world, the better to perfect it, Shaker furniture was not a uniquely new style, but a refinement of what the world had to offer. Certain furniture types were circumscribed by Shaker proscriptions against worldly amusements and fleshly indulgence - card tables and upholstery were off-limits. But other needs, for storage, seating, and workspace, were undeniable. Rather than invent a new kind of ornament to differentiate their furniture, the Shaker commitment to modesty commanded “a paring down of familiar forms from which applied or inlaid ornament was stripped” (Ray 108). Much of what is considered classic Shaker furniture, like Ellsworth Kelly’s table, was made during the Era of Manifestations, the period of Shaker revival from 1837 into the 1850s, which saw the expansion of the Shaker precepts, known as the Millennial Laws, to include material details such as varnish, paint colors, and mirror size, as well as religious doctrine. The constraints of these edicts also underscored the importance of every action as an occasion for spiritual reflection: “[The Shaker] discarded the superfluous to discover a fundamental for which he was taught to labor in all his habits. Ornament detracted. Instructed in ‘gospel simplicity’ and restricted by the Millennial Laws, the believer framed simple furniture as an exercise in perfection.” (Ray 114). In contrast to the flowing tracery and applied embellishment of, for example, the contemporaneous Hepplewhite style, the Shaker search for the fundamental resulted in a graceful balance of form and function, in which subtle variations in scale and proportion took precedence. This search is also what must have drawn Kelly, at the time unaware of the Shakers, their beliefs, and their style, to this table, almost 150 years later. To describe the table in the abstract, is to match it to almost any work by Kelly: a series of expansive, undifferentiated, geometric planes delineated by regular proportions and arranged with a delicate attention to spatial perception. It even contains the 1:3 triptych motif that echoes throughout his oeuvre, whether in the early joined panel painting Train Landscape (1953) or one from the year after he acquired the table, Blue Yellow Red III (1971). The year previous, in “Notes of 1969,” he had written “Everywhere I looked, everything I saw became something to be made, and it had to be exactly as it was, with nothing added. It was a new freedom; there was no longer the need to compose. The subject was there already made, and I could take from everything” (Kelly). For Kelly, as for the Shakers, there was no need to invent or embellish, whether on an article of furniture, or the fleeting beauty of shadows. Slicing, wedging, to describe an eye endlessly isolating and calibrating, compressing and combining, none of these words

are limpid enough for the confident but unaggressive assuredness of his forms. One might as well pick a fight with a stone. The Sabbathday Lake Shakers, the last surviving Shaker community, summarize it thus: “The Christian’s task is to live in the present moment and not to store for tomorrow the bread that comes from heaven.” (Sabbathday Shakers). To dwell in the moment, in laboring, looking, perceiving, painting, is paramount. Kelly’s attention to the moment is also what accounts for another anecdote from his early days in Chatham. Having pulled over to photograph the curving slope of a hill under snow, he received a ticket from a passing highway patrolman, baffled at Kelly’s reasoning for documenting an apparently featureless expanse. Where the inattentive might see monotonous absence, for Kelly there’s always some there there. For Kelly, art was immanent, something that could be peeled off almost effortlessly from the everday, like shavings from a Shaker’s plane. He continues, in Notes of 1969: “It all belonged to me: a glass roof of a factory with its broken and patched panels, lines on a road map, a corner of a Braque painting, paper fragments in the street. It was all the same: anything goes” (Kelly). Even in the smallest crook or emptiest view, there is always ample material to develop. A magpie of forms, his work plucks the missing piece of the world, the overlooked, the not-yet-seen, and gives it back to us. Forty-odd years later, he would muse, reflecting on the kinship between the Shakers and his own work: “People say ‘Oh, you’ve taken so much out.’ And I say, ‘I just haven’t put it in.’ And that’s very much a Shaker idea. They didn’t put too much in to begin with. So this what you have: form.”

Table, ca. 1835 Church Family, Mount Lebanon, New York Pine top, beech legs and aprons, maple center cross cleat 29” h x 108 3/4” w x 32 3/4” d The Ellsworth Kelly and Jack Shear Shaker Collection from Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon

Installation view, Jeff Bailey Gallery

Ellsworth Kelly Black Variation II, 1973-75 Lithograph on 300-gram Rives BFK paper 38 5/8 x 38 inches (98.1 x 96.5 cm) Edition of 24 Artwork Š Ellsworth Kelly Foundation and Gemini G.E.L. Image: courtesy Marquand, Seattle

Stove and Stove Pipe, ca. 1845 Mount Lebanon, New York Cast and forged iron 90 3/4” h x 12 1/2” w x 29 1/8” d The Ellsworth Kelly and Jack Shear Shaker Collection from Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon

Side Chair, ca. 1840 Mount Lebanon, New York Maple stained dark red-brown and clear-coated, with ash splint seat 40.75 x 18.5 x 15.5 inches The Ellsworth Kelly and Jack Shear Shaker Collection from Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon

Ellsworth Kelly Untitled, 1983 Lithograph on Arches 88 paper 29 x 41 inches (73.7 x 104.1 cm) Edition of 250 Artwork Š Ellsworth Kelly Foundation and Gemini G.E.L. Image: courtesy Marquand, Seattle

Installation view, Jeff Bailey Gallery

Cupboard, ca. 1835 Mount Lebanon, New York Pine, maple door knobs, walnut turn buttons (replaced), iron hinges 74 3/4” h x 36 3/4” w x 15 15/16” d The Ellsworth Kelly and Jack Shear Shaker Collection from Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon

Ellsworth Kelly Blue and Yellow and Red-Orange (Bleu et Jaune et Rouge-Orange), 1964-65 Lithograph on Rives BFK paper 35 1/4 x 23 3/4 inches (89.5 x 60.3 cm) Edition of 75 Artwork Š Ellsworth Kelly Foundation and Maeght Editeur Image: courtesy Marquand, Seattle

Published on the occasion of the exhibition: Line and Curve: The Ellsworth Kelly and Jack Shear Shaker Collection from Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon with Prints by Ellsworth Kelly March 24 - May 13, 2018 Jeff Bailey Gallery 127 Warren St Hudson, NY 12534 518.828.6680 © Jeff Bailey Gallery, 2018 Installation photography by Peter Mauney

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