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Ghosts of Chance

IN BOOK 35 OF HIS Natural History, Pliny the Elder tells how the Greek painter Protogenes, frustrated by his inability to finish one of his paintings to his satisfaction, ended up throwing a sponge he was using against the artwork. A small miracle resulted: the hurled sponge did what the painter was unable to do, and “chance placed nature into the painting.” This painterly dilemma—How does one finish? When does one stop?—seems never to have concerned Ellsworth Kelly, whose work, though extremely attentive to the operations of chance, has developed instead through a meditation on beginnings. This meditation, which takes the form of a sidestepping aimed at finding ways for the painting to have always already begun, puts the artist in a secondary position and removes him from the demiurgic responsibility he renounces. Kelly has recounted many times how, starting with Window, Museum of Modern

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