Ellsworth Kelly’s Barnyard Abstraction

THE DAILY PIC: At Matthew Marks, Kelly's photos go abstract – and Dada.

21, 1/11/16, 9:44 AM, 16G, 3010x4316 (1484+1196), 67%, Custom, 1/30 s, R33.9, G25.5, B38.6

21, 1/11/16, 9:44 AM, 16G, 3010x4316 (1484+1196), 67%, Custom, 1/30 s, R33.9, G25.5, B38.6

THE DAILY PIC (#1517): Ellsworth Kelly shot this photo, now titled Barn, Southampton, in 1968, and its geometer’s take on the world obviously brings it into close contact with the geometric abstractions that made Kelly’s name as an artist. Kelly’s photographs, now on display at Matthew Marks gallery in New York, are one of the purest expressions of the ethos of modernist formalism: “Look for shapes and tones, not meaning and function.”

In fact, it so distills that idea that it also gets at a certain willful absurdity that always lurked in abstraction: For most of its youth, abstract art was as much about giving the finger to tradition, and to its viewers, as it was about specific artistic achievements. Let’s not forget that many Dada artists engaged with the abstract, and that abstraction was as much a social and conceptual gesture as it was an aesthetic practice.

By pushing its principles to their farthest point – by begging us to see black and white rectangles instead of barn doors – Kelly’s photo preserves some of the absurdist charge that abstraction had in its infancy. It’s hard not to chuckle when you see Kelly’s gambit played out in shot after shot of different subjects in the Marks show.

In today’s Pic, Kelly goes so far as to “hang” a black monochrome and a white one on his wooden building, thus recapitulating a normal gallery space outside in the open air. What better way to convey the classic notion that once you’ve tasted modern art, you start finding it everywhere? (© Ellsworth Kelly, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery)

For a full survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

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