Ellsworth Kelly, Study for ‘Cité’: Brushstrokes Cut into Twenty Squares and Arranged by Chance, (1951)
Collage of brush and black ink on off-white wove paper, cut and laid down with brown gummed paper tape on wood pulp board
Ellsworth Kelly spent the years 1948–54 in Paris, and the period was formative for the young artist. He was introduced to European and American modernists, including Jean (Hans) Arp and John Cage, both of whom had an enormous impact on Kelly’s development and the creation of the Study for “Cité”. Cage and Arp encouraged Kelly to involve chance in his compositional arrangements, as Arp had done in Dadaist collages as early as 1916, and as Cage began to do in musical compositions in 1951.
Produced in 1951, Study for “Cité”: Brushstrokes Cut into Twenty Squares and Arranged by Chance was the basis for Cité, a large-scale polyptych painting, and served as the foundation for a period of Kelly’s career in which his work was characterized by gridded compositions developed at random through a collage process.
The inspiration for Cité’ came to Kelly in a dream in June 1951, while he was staying at the Cité Universitaire, a large complex of buildings that included dormitories for the University of Paris. He wrote, “I dreamt that I was working on a scaffold … creating an immense mural composed of square panels on which we painted black bands with huge brushes.”1 With the dream came an “idea for a very grand work, something to be used with architecture… . This dream is something I have been waiting for.”2 To replicate the qualities of the dream painting, Kelly produced Study for “Cité”: Brushstrokes Cut into Twenty Squares and Arranged by Chance. Kelly brushed ink strokes across a sheet of paper, cut the resulting drawing into twenty squares, and randomly recomposed the drawing by shuffling the squares before he glued them onto a support in a grid pattern, retaining the horizontal orientation of the brushstrokes. Cité,3 now at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, replicates Study for “Cité” as a polyptych painting.
1Kelly, Ellsworth, Jack Cowart, Alfred Pacquement, and Yve-Alain Bois, Ellsworth Kelly: The Years in France, 1948–1954 (National Gallery of Art, 1992), p. 190.
2Bois, Yve-Alain, and Ellsworth Kelly, Ellsworth Kelly: The Early Drawings, 1948–1955 (Harvard University Art Museums, 1999), p. 24.
3148.59 cm × 179.71 cm × 5.08 cm
Departmental Gallery Exhibition: Collecting for Chicago: Prints, Drawings, and Patronage: Five Families Build Collections of Works on Paper for the Art Institute of Chicago