Artist Ellsworth Kelly's Final Work Is Now Open in Austin

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By Marissa Hermanson
Titled "Austin," the chapel-like structure by the late contemporary artist Ellsworth Kelly is now open to the public at the Blanton Museum of Art.

In 2015, American luminary Ellsworth Kelly, who is known for Color Field painting and minimalism, gifted the design concept for Austin to the Blanton Museum of Art, and $23 million was raised to complete the project. Austin was Kelly’s first and only building design, and was his last project before passing away later in 2015 at the age of 92.

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Austin by Ellsworth Kelly

Austin by Ellsworth Kelly

"This is a very important moment for the Blanton, our community, and for the arts in Austin," says Blanton director Simone Wicha. "We were able to realize this singular and monumental work of art for our community—and visitors from around the world—thanks to the donors who generously joined forces to help fund the creation of Ellsworth Kelly's Austin." 

The south façade of Ellsworth Kelly's "Austin" with an entry door fabricated from live oak

The south façade of Ellsworth Kelly's "Austin" with an entry door fabricated from live oak

The contemporary building’s exterior walls are covered in limestone panels sourced from Alicante, Spain, with three facades of the structure embellished with vibrant stained glass windows in three distinct patterns —color grid, starburst, and tumbling squares. The glass is mouth-blown and created by Franz Mayer & Co., a Munich, Germany-based glass studio founded in 1847. 

A stained glass design of "tumbling squares" adorns the east façade of Ellsworth Kelly's "Austin." 

A stained glass design of "tumbling squares" adorns the east façade of Ellsworth Kelly's "Austin." 

A stained glass "starburst" design adorns the west façade of Ellsworth Kelly's "Austin" 

A stained glass "starburst" design adorns the west façade of Ellsworth Kelly's "Austin" 

A door fabricated from native Texas live oak opens to the 2,715-square-foot interior, where visitors will find a white, minimal interior with black granite floors, a sculptural wooden totem pole, and 14 black-and-white abstract marble and granite panels that symbolize the Stations of the Cross. Standing in the building’s apse on the north side, where you’d find a crucifix if you were in a Christian church, is an 18-foot-tall curved totem pole carved out of redwood. 

Inside, the sun shines through the colorful stained glass windows.

Inside, the sun shines through the colorful stained glass windows.

According to the Blanton Museum of Art, visitors will be able to experience the building similarly to visiting the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas, and the Matisse Chapel in Vence, France. And although the structure is chapel-like in appearance, Kelly designed Austin "without a religious program," merely seeing it as a space for meditation. 

A curved totem pole stands in the building’s apse.

A curved totem pole stands in the building’s apse.

A series of black-and-white abstract panels symbolize the Stations of the Cross.

A series of black-and-white abstract panels symbolize the Stations of the Cross.

"The opening of Austin further cements the Blanton as an international cultural destination," says Wicha. "The broad geographic support we received for this project is reflective of the audience we anticipate visiting Kelly's monumental achievement." 

The Exhibit

A model of the secular chapel

A model of the secular chapel

Opening alongside the Austin is the art exhibit Form into Spirit: Ellsworth Kelly's Austin, which will create a visual narrative intertwining Austin and Kelly’s expansive career as a contemporary painter, sculptor, and printmaker. 

"This is an exhibition that will satisfy newcomers and Kelly aficionados alike," said Carter E. Foster, the Blanton Museum of Art’s deputy director for curatorial affairs and curator of the show. 

Contemporary artist Ellsworth Kelly stands in front of colorful cubes.

Contemporary artist Ellsworth Kelly stands in front of colorful cubes.

The exhibit will explore Kelly’s use of color and motifs, making connections between Austin and his previous works. For instance, the color grid windows on the Austin’s front facade echo Kelly’s vibrant cubist painting Form into Spirit’s Spectrum IV (1967).