The museum-lined Benjamin Franklin Parkway’s new addition of the Barnes Foundation was made even more spectacular with this week’s instillation of “The Barnes Totem,” a major new sculpture by Ellsworth Kelly. Kelly, widely acknowledged as one of the great masters of contemporary art, was in attendance as the soaring, 40-foot-high abstract sculpture was installed at the end of a reflecting pool, where it will stand at the intersection of two walkways of trees.
The sculpture is in harmony with the design language of both the building and the landscape architecture. The bead-blasted surface of the stainless steel work will complement the richly textured limestone and bronze fins of the building's exterior. Kelly’s focus on line, form, color and spatial relationships finds resonance in the formal elements at the heart of Barnes’s aesthetic theory and teaching practice — light, line, color, and space. The site was selected by Kelly himself along the mile-long stretch that runs from City Hall to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“I think it signals what I believe is going to be an explosion in terms of art and culture in Philadelphia,” said Moore College of Art and Design Professor Moe Brooker. “This man spans my entire life — from when I was a youngster in college and there was Ellsworth Kelly’s work experimenting, finding, discovering and doing things that nobody else was doing at the time. He simplified the imagery that he decided to use, and there’s a profound quality to this piece. And when you see the shadow, which moves across this (reflecting) pool and when you see the shadow as it moves across the building it’s indicative of the power, I think, of what art really has to offer: a sense of communication, which is always real. (Kelly) is a man who is very, very profound, yet at the same time very simple. He reminds me of a prophet in some way. Prophets have a sense of being simple, but when you look into the center of their simplicity, there is is a bottomless pit: It just goes on and on and on. That’s what this piece is really about for me.”
Born in 1923, Kelly began to develop his distinctive approach to abstraction in the late 1940s in Paris, where he had gone to study on the G.I. Bill. Over the years, his sculptures have tended to take either the form of wall reliefs or of free-standing totems (as at the Barnes Foundation). He has made public commissions for sites and institutions in cities including New York; Paris; Barcelona; Washington, D.C.; Boston; Chicago; St. Louis; Houston and Dallas.
“Created in the great tradition of monumental sculpture, ‘The Barnes Totem’ works with its surroundings to focus and heighten one’s sense of being in a special place, while at the same time presents a dramatic artistic statement of great strength, beauty and integrity,” said Derek Gillman, executive director and president of the Barnes Foundation.
The Barnes Foundation, located at 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, opens to the public on Friday, May 18, 2012 (after the collection’s relocation from nearby Merion, Pa.). For more information, call (215) 640-0171 or visit www.barnesfoundation.org.