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Ellsworth Kelly: Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance

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In October and November of 1951, Ellsworth Kelly produced a series of eight large-scale collages.

Each of the works consisted of papier gommette, sticky colored paper used by French schoolchildren, cut into squares and arranged by chance in a 40-inch-wide grid formation. These collages are key early works in Kelly’s career, showing his experiments with chance, his constructive use of color, and the evolution of his impersonal aesthetic.


Ellsworth Kelly

Margaret Fisher Endowment. ©️ Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

By the time he made these collages, Kelly was already in the process of developing the non-compositional strategies he would use throughout his career. The humble, commercially produced papier gommette allowed for a nearly infinite number of unexpected color combinations and an overall composition that was not determined by the artist himself. The breakthrough of the Spectrum Colors collages would lead to some of the artist’s most iconic and best known works, including the painting Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance, made in the summer of 1953 and based on the collage Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance VI. In 1953 Kelly also produced a ninth and final Spectrum Colors collage. 

This exhibition brings together, for the first time, the full series of Spectrum Colors collages along with the 1953 painting. By focusing on the importance of a single series to Kelly’s practice, this exhibition illuminates a pivotal chapter in the career of one of the 20th century’s defining artists.



Ellsworth Kelly: Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance is curated by Caitlin Haskell, Gary C. and Frances Comer Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art, and Giampaolo Bianconi, associate curator, Modern and Contemporary Art.

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