Green Angle, Ellsworth Kelly, 1970, oil on canvas, 17.78 x 5.867 m as installed at The Broad Museum on Grand Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles
Ellsworth Kelly, Green Angle, 1970, oil on canvas, 5.867 x 17.78 m, The Broad, Los Angeles.

Figure & Ground

Ellsworth Kelly‘s Green Angle is one of the largest works at The Broad in Downtown Los Angeles. It is unique in that it is a work of pure figure. The painting relies on the architectural interior for ground. Most of the paintings hanging in The Broad, or in any other exhibition space, contain both figure and ground on the same panel. When a painting contains both figure and ground, even a crowded hanging can permit the viewer to enter the world of the painting and experience it. How a pure figure Kelly painting is hung is much more critical. Because the museum architecture is the ground, the hanging becomes a part of the work and alters the experience of it.

Green Angle, Ellsworth Kelly, 1970, oil on canvas, 17.78 x 5.867 m as installed at The Broad Museum in Los Angeles
Ellsworth Kelly, Green Angle, 1970, oil on canvas, 5.867 x 17.78 m, The Broad, Los Angeles.

The Green Angle Elevator

Visitors to The Broad are often told that a core element of the museum’s architecture, the size of its freight elevator, was designed specifically to accommodate the large 5.867 x 17.78 m dimensions of Ellsworth Kelly’s 1970 oil on canvas work Green Angle. While Kelly’s painting enjoys a celebrated place in the museum’s design, its hanging may be less generous. In my judgment, this work is hung too low. The low hanging doesn’t allow Green Angle to resonate with the Diller Scofidio + Renfro architecture.

Ed Ruscha, Norm’s La Cienega on Fire, 1964, The Broad, Los Angeles.

Ed Ruscha can breathe

Kelly’s nearest neighbor at The Broad is Ed Ruscha’s Norm’s La Cienega on Fire, 1964. Like most paintings, Norm’s La Cienega on Fire contains both figure and ground and therefore is largely impervious to how it is hung. Given ample space as shown here, or hung Salon style in a cramped gallery, the figure, ground, and overall experience of Norm’s La Cienega on Fire would be largely unaltered by the hanging.

Blue Green Black Red: The Dallas Panels, 1988, Ellsworth Kelly, site-specific painting, 
Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. Image: Artstudio magazine no. 24, 1992.

Ellsworth Kelly, Blue Green Black Red: The Dallas Panels, 1988, site-specific painting,
Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas. Image: Artstudio magazine no. 24, 1992.

Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas

Architect I. M. Pei commissioned Kelly in 1988 for the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas. For the Meyerson, Kelly created the 10.3 x 9.5 m work Dallas Panels (Blue Green Black Red). When Kelly is hung in resonance with its architectural environment, as in Dallas Panels in the Meyerson lobby, his all-figure painting comes alive against the ground of that architecture.

Hung for Instagram

On a visit to The Broad I asked a visitor services associate if he thought Green Angle was hung too low. His reply was a question, “You know the whole museum is hung for Instagram, right?” The VSA believed that the criteria for exhibition design at The Broad is how it works for Instagram selfies. He went on to describe The Broad’s Influencer Events. Occasions when Instagram influencers with a certain number of followers are given exclusive access to the museum and assistance with selfies. The VSA also stated that when the museum was first opening, he had suggested having one day a week of no cameras allowed, in hopes of fostering a more present appreciation of the work. He said, “obviously, we didn’t go that way.

Ellsworth Kelly’s Green Angle in its large, but unfortunately not large enough, gallery at The Broad in Downtown Los Angeles.

Breathing room for a masterpiece of geometric abstraction

Green Angle doesn’t have to be hung so low. I encourage The Broad to try hanging Green Angle higher. Also, the ropes around the painting which strive to preserve the work for the future, rob it of the present. Because this work is so sensitive to architectural interiors, the ropes become a distraction from the purity and power of the work. Hanging the work higher might facilitate removing or minimizing the ropes.

Ellsworth Kelly’s Green Angle is a sublime masterpiece. I dream of one day viewing it in its full power and glory.

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