Ellsworth Kelly sculpture to be at Barnes on Parkway

Ellsworth Kelly's 40-foot contemporary sculpture, "The Barnes Totem," will be installed at the Barnes' Parkway home.
Ellsworth Kelly's 40-foot contemporary sculpture, "The Barnes Totem," will be installed at the Barnes' Parkway home.
Posted: March 08, 2012

After a few brief words of praise, the city Art Commission gave its unanimous blessing Wednesday to a soaring Ellsworth Kelly sculpture proposed by the Barnes Foundation for its new site on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

"This was an easy one," said the architect Emanuel Kelly, a commission member (and no relation to Ellsworth Kelly).

The commission's chairman, the painter Moe Brooker, lauded the Barnes for bringing high-profile attention to contemporary art.

"I find that very exciting," he said.

The Kelly sculpture, a slender stainless-steel blade rising 40 feet, was commissioned and donated to the Barnes by the Neubauer Family Foundation.

Joseph Neubauer, head of Aramark and vice chairman of the Barnes, said last week that he envisioned the sculpture as a gift to the city as well as to the Barnes.

The foundation, steward of a renowned collection of impressionist, post-impressionist, and early modernist work, will open its new gallery facility between 20th and 21st Streets on May 19. The gallery has been in Merion since the 1920s.

Derek Gillman, Barnes president, said installation of the Kelly work - dubbed The Barnes Totem - would take place during the first half of April. Kelly, 88, will come from his upstate New York studio to Philadelphia for at least part of the installation, Gillman said.

At the commission meeting, foundation curator Judith F. Dolkart said Kelly's career had been dominated by a focus on "line, form, and color." Those same interests echoed the thinking of Albert C. Barnes, who amassed one of the world's greatest private art collections.

Displaying the Kelly work, Dolkart maintained, not only reflected the continuing importance of Barnes' thinking but also "the foundation's commitment to the exhibition of contemporary art."

The artist, who has fashioned many "totems" over the last four decades, did not specifically create this work for the Barnes, Neubauer said last week. The architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien and the landscape architect Laurie Olin did not include a spot in the new Barnes site design specifically for public art.

But when the architects and artist walked the grounds several months ago, the location they settled on seemed to be waiting for the Kelly work, according to both Williams and Tsien.

It will stand at the head of a reflecting pool on the north side of the building; the water in the shallow pool will reflect the stepped design of the totem.

Three approaches to the gallery entrance converge on the spot.


Contact culture writer Stephan Salisbury at 215-854-5594 or ssalisbury@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @SPSalisbury.

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