Willie Nelson and live music. The Longhorns and college football. Matthew McConaughey and burritos. With so much to like about Austin, TX, be sure to save time for Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin.
It’s not a chapel, although it has been compared to one.
Calling it simply a building would be selling it far short.
“It’s a work of art,” Christian Wurst, curatorial assistant at the Blanton Museum of Art on the campus of the University of Texas–Austin, said of Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin. “We call it a work of art.”
A unique work of art challenging definition.
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What is Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin?
The structure covers 2,715 square feet. The almost delicate exterior walls feature limestone panels from Spain. An 18-foot tall totem made from California redwood greets visitors upon entry. The redwood was salvaged from the bottom of a riverbed and allowed to dry for three years.
Thirty-three individual mouth-blown glass windows produced by Franz Mayer in Munich, Germany decorate the exterior and fill the interior with colored light. Fourteen black and white stone panels representing the Stations of the Cross are hung inside. The black marble comes from Belgium. The white marble from Carrera, Italy, the same location where Michelangelo sourced his white marble.
Despite all of its hard materials, the overall feeling upon being inside Austin is soft. There is harmony here. Serenity. Peace.
After considering numerous options, Ellsworth Kelly gifted the Blanton a design concept for his most monumental work. That work would become Austin. It would also be his last.
Kelly died in December of 2015; Austin did not open to the public until February of 2018.
Unlike many artists who work on buildings with an architect, Kelly made every design choice for Austin before his death. What you see is 100 percent his vision, including its physical location. Kelly chose that after being given a small model of what the completed structure would look like and a map of the UT campus scaled to it.
“It’s a monument to 20th Century art,” Wurst said. “Ellsworth Kelly is one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century. Having the privilege of having the only building he ever designed and the last work he ever created is significant.
“It will be one of the monuments that people will think of when they think of Austin. People will have a checklist of things to do in Austin and this will be one of them.”
The Blanton raised $23 million for the construction and fabrication of Austin after securing the design concept from Kellyin 2015, funds which will also support an ongoing endowment sustaining proper maintenance of the work.
Can’t make it to Austin to see Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin, read all about it in this full-color, coffee table book exploring its creation.
When is the best time to see Ellsworth Kelly Austin?
Austin’s permanence as a structure combined with the constant transformation of its interior encourages repeat trips.
“What you don’t realize is the textures and the patterns and the changes in the day and the weather,” Wurst said. “It changes the building completely when it’s light out and when it’s not. What I realize is how often your experience changes every time you visit–whether it’s crowded inside, bright, rainy.”
The completed Austin offers another surprise.
“How mathematically precise it (looks), the lines, the corners, everything is perfect,” Wurst said.
Wurst recommends visiting as soon as the museum opens at 10:00 AM local time for the most dramatic effect of light through the windows on the interior.
The Blanton Museum of Art’s location allows for comfortable walkability to the UT campus, the Texas state capitol building, and Austin’s famed restaurant, bar, and nightlife-lined 6th Street.