In ‘Austin,’ a Monument to Ellsworth Kelly’s Vision

Two years after Ellsworth Kelly’s death in December 2015, the artist’s final work and the only free-standing building he designed has been realized on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. On Feb. 18, the serene cruciform-shaped structure in white stone, with stained-glass windows in geometric shapes reproducing the color spectrum on three sides, opens to the public. Titled “Austin,” the nondenominational chapel-like building is part of the collection of the university’s Blanton Museum of Art, which has completed a $23 million campaign for its construction and endowment.

“It’s magnificent and intimate all at once,” said Simone Wicha, director of the Blanton. “Ellsworth’s ability to see the scale is genius.”

Ms Wicha spearheaded the project, originally conceived in drawings and two handmade models for a private collector in 1987, and worked closely with the artist in the last year of his life on every single aesthetic decision — from the glassblowing process to produce the colors he wanted for the windows to the grout on the walls to the electrical outlets. At just over 2,700 square feet, “Austin” is adjacent to the Blanton and surrounded by green space.

As light angles throughout the day across the windows — with panes in a tumbling-square design, a grid and a starburst formation — reflections of the colored shapes move over the white walls and floor inside, echoing the palette and forms of Kelly’s signature geometric canvases. Fourteen square black-and-white marble panels, which Kelly designed as abstractions of the stations of the cross, hang on the walls and an 18-foot-tall redwood totem rises in the apse. Opening next door at the Blanton also on Feb. 18, an exhibition titled “Form into Spirit: Ellsworth Kelly’s ‘Austin’” traces all these motifs across 96 works from the artist’s career and includes an early sketch of a chapel Kelly drew during his formative years in France from 1948 to 1954.

Akin to chapels designed by Henri Matisse in the south of France and by Mark Rothko in Houston, Kelly’s immersive space is intended to inspire contemplation and joy, Ms. Wicha said.

“Ellsworth thought through exactly the relationship between all the white space and the objects inside,” she said. “It’s one. He’s completely controlled the environment for us.”

Excerpt from The New York Times, “In ‘Austin,’ a Monument to Ellsworth Kelly’s Vision”