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Ellsworth Kelly, at 90, makes one birthday party, misses another

Ellsworth Kelly at a party in New York last month. (Ben Gabbe / Getty Images) Ellsworth Kelly at a party in New York last month. (Ben Gabbe / Getty Images)

It’s his party — and, at 90 years old, he can skip it if he wants to.

Ellsworth Kelly, the abstract painter and sculptor whose career has spanned seven decades, was in town Tuesday to celebrate the opening of “Panel Paintings 2004-2009,” his first exhibition at the Phillips Collection. But the artist fell ill Wednesday morning, forcing him to skip the intimate birthday party for Phillips Collection employees and arts journalists.

“You don’t argue with a star,” said Phillips Collection director Dorothy Kosinski, relaying the disappointing news. “And you don’t argue with a 90 year-old. . . C’est la vie.”

On Tuesday evening, about 70 guests enjoyed a dinner and exhibition tour with the artist at the museum. Kosinski told us that Kelly — who hit the nonagenerian mark May 31 — marveled at the Braques and Matisses on display and said he “felt very at home.” In good spirits all through dinner. Kelly lingered until 10 p.m. chatting with guests.

This morning, arts reporters and gallery staff members gathered in the courtyard next to Kelly’s hefty bronze “Untitled.” Awkward moment upon learning the birthday boy had canceled.

“Should we cut the cake anyway?” an employee asked

Of course! We’re sure Kelly wouldn’t mind at all.

So the party went on, guests sampling chocolate cake and toasting with champagne. A couple folks sang “Happy Birthday” before leaving. We’re sure Kelly’s ears were ringing.

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Katherine Boyle reports on arts, museums and culture for the Style section.



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