Monday, August 1, 2011

Ellsworth Kelly and Richard Meier: The Getty Center Los Angeles

left: Ellsworth Kelly, American
Untitled, 1988
© Ellsworth Kelly
Gift of Fran and Ray Stark
Photograph by versluis, © 2011

right: Statue of a kouros (youth), Rear view
Stone sculpture, Naxian marble
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Fletcher Fund, 1932

Heading north from downtown Los Angeles, on the 405, and approaching the J. Paul Getty Museum one is struck by how the architecture stands out like a bright shining city on a hilltop in the Santa Monica Mountains. This monumental complex is the visualization of architect Richard Meier and his Renaissance realization of an ideal city of the twenty-first century.

Once inside the Museum complex at the south end of the Courtyard, one encounters Ellsworth Kelly’s striking sculptural piece called “Untitled,” which looks out to a panorama of the city of Los Angeles. The precise geometric contour is indicative of Kelly’s very fine drawing ability and hypersensitivity to classical form. The piece is fitting for the space and certainly complements Meier’s building that was built with blocks of Italian Travertine stone. Apparently, Kelly studied examples of ancient Greek sculpture as a basis for his piece. As the Getty Center’s website states:

In the early 1970s, Ellsworth Kelly began creating totem-like [obelisk] sculptures in a variety of materials including wood, aluminum, and weathering steel. This work is one of a handful of “totems” Kelly executed in bronze. The artist used a source from antiquity — the rigid, upright statues of young men known as kouroi.
Thus it seems appropriate to juxtapose and compare a photograph of Kelly’s sculpture to a picture of an archaic kouros statue from the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This Greek sculpture, a grave marker, was chiseled from marble. The MMA website describes the statue this way:
The [contrapposto] pose provided a clear, simple formula that was used by Greek sculptors throughout the sixth century B.C. In this early figure, geometric, almost abstract forms predominate, and anatomical details are rendered in beautiful analogous patterns. The statue marked the grave of a young Athenian aristocrat.

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