Ellsworth Kelly exhibited a single painting, Blue Panel (1999), a large canvas with five unequal sides. When placed in the gallery, it appeared as a voluptuous and monumental relief, pulsating in saturated blue—a figure that transformed the wall into its ground.
Kelly’s eye has always been drawn towards certain shapes, relationships and elements in the world. He has said that ‘the things I’m interested in have always been there’; yet, at the same time, they happened only once: ‘it’s nothing if it isn’t about something you haven’t seen before. Kelly is concerned with specificity, and devoted to making his shapes both unique and real. Blue Panel appears to float and vibrate with colour—creating a kind of colour-space so that at its centre the surface seems to dissolve and become immaterial, as if an aperture had opened; at the edges, however, the colour lifts again, and hums along the racing diagonals of the painting’s perimeter.
Kelly’s paintings make visible the shape of things that might otherwise be invisible, however, many of his shapes derive from things seen in the world—the curve of a Romanesque window, the gentle swell of a hill, the curved line of the horizon; he has also made paintings with invented shapes. In his essay ‘The Summons’, Yve-Alain Bois suggests that what we should really be paying attention to is Kelly’s particular way of seeing: ‘it is a zooming process by which the artist appropriates some unnoticed area of the visual field. He makes a cut out of this area, evacuates it of its substance, and lays it flat. Most often, the excerpt in question is interstitial. A part of the ground in our daily perception, it did not call attention to itself until Kelly picked it up. Isolating it, Kelly makes it the figure. A shape is born…it suddenly exists because the rest has been edited out’. Kelly himself has said ‘it’s not so much what the work is, it’s what it isn’t.’
For the White Cube show, Kelly also exhibited lithographs and drawings in the adjoining space.