Art in Austin

Prepare to explore Austin, Ellsworth Kelly's groundbreaking new work opening soon

Explore Austin, Ellsworth Kelly's groundbreaking new work opening soon

Ellsworth Kelly Austin
Ellsworth Kelly's Austin is finally ready for public view at the Blanton.  Courtesy photo

More than three years after it announced it was acquiring Ellsworth's Kelly's Austin, the Blanton Museum of Art will unveil the groundbreaking addition its permanent collection. On February 18, the 2,715-square-foot stone "chapel" perched near the Blanton on the University of Texas at Austin campus will open its doors.

The structure is constructed using Spanish limestone as well as special elements like redwoods milled in the 19th century and salvaged from a riverbed, native Texas live oak repurposed from the site of the Dell Medical School, and stained glass windows on three of the building's four facades. Inside the building is a totem built using the salvaged redwood, and 14 black and white panels that serve as the artist's version of the stations of the cross. 

Despite its chapel-like feel and the stations of the cross, Kelly's surviving partner (the artist died in 2015, two months after construction on Austin began) told the New York Times' style bible T Magazine that Kelly purposefully kept it secular, even turning down an offer from a Catholic university because he didn't want the building consecrated. 

“I mean, it’s gonna be called a chapel whether anyone likes it or not,” Jack Shear told T Magazine. “It’s a chapel really dedicated to creativity. That’s how I see it: it’s a secular chapel.” 

It's a sentiment that echos Kelly's 2015 statement that Austin is meant to be a place for reflection. Said the Blanton in a press release, "Kelly stated that he conceived the project 'without a religious program,' and envisioned it as a site for joy and contemplation." 

Though the idea for the freestanding chapel was originally conceived in 1986, what eventually became known as Austin was commissioned nearly three decades later thanks to a $23 million endowment campaign led by such locals as Suzanne Deal Booth and David G. Booth, among many others. 

It's hard to overstate the importance of Austin to, well, Austin. The structure marks Kelly's final piece before his death, his only freestanding building, and is, according to some, the pinnacle of his illustrious and prolific career. “Austin will be a bold new landmark for the university and our city,” Blanton Museum director Simone Wicha said in a statement. Indeed, Austin is expected to attract tourists and art lovers from across the world, eager to see Kelly's final work. 

Austin's dedication ceremony will be held at the Blanton on February 18, and feature remarks from Austin mayor Steve Adler and UT president Gregory L. Fenves. Sunday also marks the opening of "Form into Spirit: Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin," an exhibition that explores how Kelly's career eventually led to this cumulative work. The exhibition runs through April 29.