Mass Appeal

HIS LIFE'S WORK HAS BEEN a wager. Perhaps not as fateful as Pascal’s but certainly profoundly serious. Ellsworth Kelly set himself against the received ideas of painting. Almost half a century after studios hummed with talk about something called a peinture-objet, Kelly entered the arena with his own definition, one unlike anything that had come before. That definition occurred on canvas and not in words, although eventually, and with obvious reluctance, Kelly was constrained to tell an ever more verbal public (which is to say, critics) how to think about the objects he called paintings. Like Picasso before World War I, he thought of a painting as an object among objects. But of course he knew, as all painters know, that no matter how exquisitely reduced the means, the human imagination amplifies. Even as he stripped his means to single painted surfaces, or a sequence of single painted

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