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Ellsworth Kelly on Boston

Posted by Sebastian Smee  September 23, 2010 10:01 AM

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09202010_20mfa_photo2.jpgThe Museum of Fine Arts announced last week that, with the help of Bank of America, it had acquired a 22-foot-long, five panel Ellsworth Kelly painting from 1968 called "Blue Green Yellow Orange Red." Kelly, one of the world's most acclaimed living artists, studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in the late 1940s. In 2008, he gave an interview to the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, in which he discusses his time in Boston, as part of a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion about art and architecture.
In those days, the museum school, he says, was "very conservative with an academic training." While Kelly was there, Philip Guston came and talked about Piero della Francesca, and Max Beckmann, the great German painter, also taught there. "Beckmann was there to give a critique but he passed all the boys, only talking with the girls," recalls Kelly. Later in the interview Kelly talks about the panels he made for the federal courthouse in Boston, at the invitation of Harry Cobb, the architect. Kelly took a small model of the rotunda where the works would be displayed to show to Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who was chief judge in Boston at the time (he is now on the Supreme Court). Breyer asked Kelly what the work meant. "I said it's a bunch of colors," remembers Kelly, "the black panel in the center holds it all together just like you Judge in your black robe. And they laughed and liked that answer." The interview has just been published in book form by D.A.P, with terrific illustrations of Kelly's work.

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