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One Kelly, Two Ways

Tableau Vert

The Art Institute’s collection includes a giant log, miniature rooms, works on paper that are extremely fragile, and Renaissance jewelry. Yet, according to photographer Robert Hashimoto, the work that has been most difficult to shoot in his 25-plus years at the museum is Tableau Vert, a flat, relatively small oil by Ellsworth Kelly. This recent acquisition, a gift from the artist in honor of the museum’s celebrated Impressionist collection, proved Hashimoto’s greatest challenge. It might serve as a primer on reproducing art works in the digital age.

The surface of the painting, which was created in 1952, is a mottled blue-green, as if the artist was exploring the surface of a tropical pool, or some exotic (and beautiful) algae. The name translates as "green picture," but as Robert tells it, the painting looked almost completely blue to him in the studio. When he sent proofs to the Publications department, they had a few questions for him. So began a very Modern dialogue.

The photo proofs were made on an ink jet printer and compared with the painting in the galleries. Digital prints "metamerize" in mixed daylight and tungsten light, making the colors look strange under different wavelengths. The warm, yellow Tungsten light used in the galleries makes the painting look greener than it does in the color-balanced light of a photography studio. "Perception of color is so subjective," Robert says, "everyone sees color differently." After cataract surgery, Robert now sees far more intense colors than he'd seen before - particularly in the blue end of the spectrum. "That's when I call someone in to give me a second opinion," he says. Working closely with the Publications department, they made a print that satisfies the requirements of advanced imaging specifications. It's almost as beautiful as the painting, but you'll have to visit Gallery 297 in the Modern Wing to see for yourself.

Ellsworth Kelly Tableau Vert, 1952. Oil on wood. 74.3 x 99.7 cm (29 1/4 x 39 1/4 in.) Gift of the artist, 2009.51 © Ellsworth Kelly