The Ellsworth Kelly Exhibition in Rome

The only Italian stage of the international exhibition dedicated to the master of abstraction, the exhibition at the Nicola Del Roscio Foundation combines botanical drawings and unpublished sketchbooks. Shedding new light on the poetics of Ellsworth Kelly

In the exhibition for the 100th birthday of Ellsworth Kelly (Newburgh, 1923 – Spencertown, 2015) at the Nicola Del Roscio Foundation, the expressive path that leads to abstraction can be deciphered with rare clarity in the papers on display.
Kelly’s graphic sign does indeed contain the epigones of an almost scientific naturalism that matured in the Paris years and at the same time the longing for abstract simplification for which the artist is internationally known.
The Roman recension is the only Italian leg of the exhibition tour organized by the Ellsworth Kelly Studio in Spencertown. The double-column Liberty façade, which has been the Foundation’s Rome headquarters since 2019, hides a spectacular elliptical space occupied by the Florida Theater in the 1920s and for four years the centerpiece of international exhibitions sponsored by the non-profit institution became.
It’s the turn of the American champion, author of a few series botanical drawings in large format and a selection of sketchbook previously unpublished which lead to the section of his famous monochrome panels. Yet on the rough walls it is the mark, tracing shapes of flowers and leaves to show Kelly’s hand and ingenuity. The drawings testify to his never-ending interest in the notion of true love of late 19th-century painters: in sixty years of research up to 2010, the artist analyzed botanical forms without altering the sense of nature with which he viewed them, intending to create an ideal and to give absolute reading of it.

Installation view, Ellsworth Kelly. Line, Form, Color, 2023, Nicola Del Roscio Foundation, Rome, photo S. Luciano ©FNDR


The exhibition reveals three registers: an intimate one, on the pages of sketchbooks, that reveals a curious and emotional streak. The ink looks like drypoint at times, vibrating and dripping at the edges and betraying the love for these shapes. The large wall drawings, on the other hand, are grouped thematically, stringing together seemingly identical subjects—lemon twigs, blooming and trembling hyacinths, water lilies, prickly amaryllis, fleeting leaves and poppies, grapefruit and corn plants, sacred vine leaves—made unique by minimal variations.
on the way that he strives for abstraction from the naturalKelly is touched by his references, from Matisse to Hans Arp to American Abstract Expressionism, but the traces of his journey to aniconic form can be seen in the seriality of the investigation.
This journey takes place in the absolute colors for which the artist is present in the great world collections. A selection of painted aluminum panels from 1982, born as a print project and then developed into objects, closes the exhibition. In the alternating arrangement, in the deliberate distance to the background that leaves the shadow, and in the geometric mobility of the forms, the gaze captures the conception of new perspectives, the search for a vanishing point that gives them direction and mental reality. Inexplicable reality without the authenticity of the process resulting from natural forms.

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Frances Bottari

Art events in progress in Rome

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