Ellsworth Kelly Foundation Gifts $16 Million in Artwork to 50 Museums

A wave of donations, exhibits and events will mark the late artist's centennial birthday.

Elderly man wearing glasses sits at desk in art studio.
Ellsworth Kelly at his Spencertown studio in 2011. Jack Shear/Ellsworth Kelly Foundation.

The Ellsworth Kelly Foundation is celebrating the centennial of the artist’s birth by donating $2.75 million in grants and $16 million worth of Kelly’s work to 50 U.S. museums.

The Museum of Modern Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum, all of which Kelly had significant relationships with, will receive $100,000, the Kelly Foundation announced yesterday (April 27).

Meanwhile, the remaining 45 museums, which include the National Gallery of Art, the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, will each receive $50,000 from the foundation.

In addition to the grants, all 50 museums were gifted works by Kelly from Jack Shear, the late artist’s husband and president of the Kelly Foundation.

Except for the Whitney, the museums receiving $100,000 were given 25 works of their choosing, while the 45 institutions receiving the smaller gift did not have a choice in the selection process, according to the New York Times.

The Ellsworth Kelly Foundation’s history of donating artwork

“The centennial gifts of Ellsworth’s artwork build upon Ellsworth’s long history of generosity,” said Shear in a statement.

Kelly, who was born on May 31, 1923, returned to New York in the 1950s after serving in World War II and spending some years in France. His first solo exhibition in the U.S. was at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1956, and his first retrospective was held at MoMA in 1973.

The artist, who died in 2015, received the National Medal of Arts in 2012 and was honored in 2019 with a stamp series from the U.S. Postal Service.

Middle aged white man with grey hair wearing suit
Jack Shear, who married Ellsworth Kelly in 2012. Ryan Miller/WireImage.

Shear inherited Kelly’s works and has made several donations to museums in the past, often through the Kelly Foundation. The non-profit focuses on cultural preservation initiatives and local community efforts to protect the resources of Columbia County, New York, where Kelly lived for 40 years, and has made more than $30 million worth of donations since its creation in 1991.

In 2016, the foundation granted $1 million to the Foundation for Contemporary Arts to establish an annual award for solo exhibitions of emerging or mid-career artists. The Kelly Foundation also donated 67 works to the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas in 2019 and gave 25 of Kelly’s sketchbooks to MoMA in 2021.

The 100th anniversary of Kelly’s birth will also be celebrated with a series of exhibitions across ten museums, including MoMA and the Art Institute of Chicago. The celebrations will be accompanied by events in Columbia County, which will include a show of Kelly’s exhibition posters and an open tour of his former studio.

Ellsworth Kelly Foundation Gifts $16 Million in Artwork to 50 Museums