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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, 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)

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Laura C. Mallonee

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...

11 replies on “Will Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin Sanctuary Out-Transcend Houston’s Rothko Chapel?”

  1. In one case it might hold a candle (get the pun?) to the Rothko chapel… If it won’t have in the end those hard-edged marble panel paintings on the (necessarily white) walls. And that sculpture… in this way, it looks too much like a gallery. Turrell-ification just isn’t enough to eliminate the impression that you’re still in a sort of a gallery….

    P.S. $15 million for a building of these dimensions?…

    1. P.P.S. Ellsworth Kelly, mind you, is a guilty pleasure for me. I do think it’s his most creative project in quite a long while – and it’s this, the “plant drawings” and the “Tablet” series that are frankly more interesting than most of his main oeuvre after the golden era of Greenberg formalism has passed. Surely it is to be appreciated that he has not changed his style when he fell out of fashion. But persisting in classicism is both a virtue and the sign of a dead-end. His choice to remain faithful to radical flatness has more to do with ration than with creativity. In the meantime, others have learned from Minimalism what is to learn and have moved on. Ellsworth Kelly will certainly be remembered – but as the most iconic result of radical modernism turning into a new academicism… No wonder why he is so celebrated by institutions.

  2. These may be the most interesting things he’ll have made in years… but seirously? 15 million dollars? You can put on a Broadway musical for that amount of money. That’s INSANE.

    1. I wondered that myself already…

      Broadway musical? There are probably 1001 better things to do with 15 million dollars than a Broadway musical too…

  3. “Will Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin Sanctuary Out-Transcend Houston’s Rothko Chapel?”

    LOL! Because aesthetic experiences are, above all else, a competition.

  4. These guys do wonderful work but it’s not holy, and they do themselves great disservice, they or whoever, to call these installations “sanctuaries” and “chapels”. It’s modern art and as good as it may be it’s still drenched in ego. Matisse’s Vence Chapel is a different story because he was commissioned to decorate a place of worship and worked within a liturgical narrative. So it was a chapel. I’m not saying work done outside of a religious context can’t be supremely spiritual, but let us be the judge of it.

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