Inside Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin

The only building the abstract artist ever designed opened this weekend at the University of Texas at Austin
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Ellsworth Kelly, Austin, 2015 (Interior, facing south) Artist-designed building with installation of colored glass windows, marble panels, and redwood totem 60 ft. x 73 ft. x 26 ft. 4 in. ©Ellsworth Kelly Foundation Photo courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin
Ellsworth Kelly, Austin, 2015 (Interior, facing south) Artist-designed building with installation of colored glass windows, marble panels, and redwood totem 60 ft. x 73 ft. x 26 ft. 4 in. ©Ellsworth Kelly Foundation Photo courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin

In 2015 the 91-year-old American artist Ellsworth Kelly gave the design of a building he had been working on to The Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin, with the intention that the Blanton should build it within its grounds.

 

Ellsworth Kelly, Austin, 2015 (West façade) Artist-designed building with installation of colored glass windows, marble panels, and redwood totem 60 ft. x 73 ft. x 26 ft. 4 in. ©Ellsworth Kelly Foundation Photo courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin
Ellsworth Kelly, Austin, 2015 (West façade) Artist-designed building with installation of colored glass windows, marble panels, and redwood totem 60 ft. x 73 ft. x 26 ft. 4 in. ©Ellsworth Kelly Foundation Photo courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin

Kelly had conceived this chapel-like work of architecture – the only building he ever made – in 1986 for a private collector, and acknowledged that the high ceilings and stained glass had religious overtones.

 

Ellsworth Kelly, Austin, 2015 (East façade) Artist-designed building with installation of colored glass windows, marble panels, and redwood totem 60 ft. x 73 ft. x 26 ft. 4 in. ©Ellsworth Kelly Foundation Photo courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin
Ellsworth Kelly, Austin, 2015 (East façade) Artist-designed building with installation of colored glass windows, marble panels, and redwood totem 60 ft. x 73 ft. x 26 ft. 4 in. ©Ellsworth Kelly Foundation Photo courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin

However, unlike the Rothko Chapel in Houston or Henri Matisse’s Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, in France, Kelly's building – called simply ‘Austin’ – was always intended to be “without a religious program,” the artist said, envisioning it instead as a site for joy and contemplation.

 

Ellsworth Kelly, Austin, 2015 (Interior, facing north) Artist-designed building with installation of colored glass windows, marble panels, and redwood totem 60 ft. x 73 ft. x 26 ft. 4 in. ©Ellsworth Kelly Foundation Photo courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin
Ellsworth Kelly, Austin, 2015 (Interior, facing north) Artist-designed building with installation of colored glass windows, marble panels, and redwood totem 60 ft. x 73 ft. x 26 ft. 4 in. ©Ellsworth Kelly Foundation Photo courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin

Kelly passed away in December 2015, and so was unable to step into the completed building, which opened yesterday. Nevertheless, the 2,715-square-foot stone building follows his plans exactly, and now serves as a brilliant display space for Kelly’s wood totem sculpture and black-and-white marble panels with signature Kelly geometric shapes.

 

Ellsworth Kelly, Austin, 2015 (Interior, facing west) Artist-designed building with installation of colored glass windows, marble panels, and redwood totem 60 ft. x 73 ft. x 26 ft. 4 in. ©Ellsworth Kelly Foundation Photo courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin
Ellsworth Kelly, Austin, 2015 (Interior, facing west) Artist-designed building with installation of colored glass windows, marble panels, and redwood totem 60 ft. x 73 ft. x 26 ft. 4 in. ©Ellsworth Kelly Foundation Photo courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin

The opening coincides with a new exhibition at the Blanton, Form into Spirit: Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin, which will contextualize the museum's important new addition by telling its story in relation to Kelly's broader career.

 

Ellsworth Kelly, Austin, 2015 (Southeast view) Artist-designed building with installation of colored glass windows, marble panels, and redwood totem 60 ft. x 73 ft. x 26 ft. 4 in. ©Ellsworth Kelly Foundation Photo courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin
Ellsworth Kelly, Austin, 2015 (Southeast view) Artist-designed building with installation of colored glass windows, marble panels, and redwood totem 60 ft. x 73 ft. x 26 ft. 4 in. ©Ellsworth Kelly Foundation Photo courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin

For more on that new building and show go here; for greater insight into this important US artist order a copy of our Ellsworth Kelly book, the definitive monograph on one of the most revered artists of our time.


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