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Will Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin Sanctuary Out-Transcend Houston’s Rothko Chapel?

Interior rendering of Ellsworth Kelly's "Austin"(2015)
Interior rendering of Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin”(2015) (All images courtesy the Blanton Museum of Art)

Move out of the way, Houston, with your fancy Rothko Chapel. Austin’s fix’n to get one of its own, this time designed by Color Field artist Ellsworth Kelly.

The Blanton Museum of Art announced the news today that the 91-year-old artist has gifted the institution an unrealized design for a chapel first conceived for a private collector in 1986. For the past two years, Kelly’s been working with the museum to finally bring the now-titled Austin chapel to pass. “[It] will allow visitors the opportunity literally to walk into an Ellsworth Kelly: a space of abstraction and light,” said Jack Shear, director of the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation, in a statement.

Ellsworth Kelly, "Austin" 2015, Artist-designed building with installation of colored glass windows, marble panels, and redwood totem, 60 ft. x 73 ft. x 26 ft. 4 in., Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Gift of the artist, with funding generously provided by Jeanne and Michael Klein, Suzanne Deal Booth and David G. Booth, the Scurlock Foundation, Leslie and Jack S. Blanton, Jr., Elizabeth and Peter Wareing, and Kelli and Eddy S. Blanton, © 2015 Ellsworth Kelly (All images courtesy the Blanton Museum of Art)
Ellsworth Kelly, “Austin” 2015, 60 ft. x 73 ft. x 26 ft. 4 in., Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Gift of the artist, with funding generously provided by Jeanne and Michael Klein, Suzanne Deal Booth and David G. Booth, the Scurlock Foundation, Leslie and Jack S. Blanton, Jr., Elizabeth and Peter Wareing, and Kelli and Eddy S. Blanton, © 2015 Ellsworth Kelly

The 2,715-square-foot stone chapel is particularly special because it’s the only freestanding building that Kelly has ever designed. His characteristic shape-paintings will also find form in stained glass windows — the artist’s very first attempt to realize his aesthetic vision through light. These will fill three of the building’s four chancels, with the fourth housing a towering redwood totem. Fourteen black-and-white marble panels will also hang on the walls. Kelly explained that the structure’s Romanesque architecture was inspired by the years he spent in Paris after the war studying art on the G.I. Bill.

Austin is part of a journey that began nearly 70 years ago,” he shared. “In Boston in 1947, as an art student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, I discovered a 12th-century fresco in the museum’s collection that made a tremendous impression on me. Later, when I was living and working in Paris, I would put my bike on a train and visit early architectural sites all over France. I was intrigued by Romanesque and Byzantine art and architecture.”

The $15 million project may stem from spiritual inspirations, but it’s meant more as a nonreligious public space to enjoy quiet contemplation. The Blanton has already raised $7 million for the project, and construction will begin as soon as the remaining funds are raised. It should take about a year to complete after that.

“Ellsworth Kelly has had a major presence in Texas for decades, with significant public installations and distinguished private collections of his art throughout the state,” said Richard Shiff, a Kelly scholar who holds the Effie Marie Cain Regents Chair in Art at The University of Texas at Austin. “The masterwork that Kelly has designed will become a jewel in his Texas crown, and an exciting addition to the Blanton Museum, which is one of the jewels of UT. More than the center of Kelly’s work in Texas, it will be the center of the Kelly globe.”

Interior rendering of Ellsworth Kelly's "Austin"(2015)
Interior rendering of Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin”(2015)
Interior rendering of Ellsworth Kelly's "Austin"(2015)
Interior rendering of Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin”(2015)
Interior rendering of Ellsworth Kelly's "Austin"(2015)
Interior rendering of Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin”(2015)
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