May 23, 2018

Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin

In: Travel


If you find yourself near Austin this summer be certain to visit Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin, the newest addition to the Blanton Museum of Art’s permanent collection on the UT campus.

The entrance to Austin. Photography by Casey Dunn.

On a recent trip, Blanton Museum curator Carter Foster explained that Austin is essentially a culmination of Kelly’s career and expresses his fascination with beauty through color and form. Carter, who was a personal friend of the artist sports the only tattoo designed by Kelly. With the help of Houston art dealer Hiram Butler and many generous donors, the American artist gifted the 2,715-square-foot stone building to The Blanton in 2015. Completed earlier this year, Austin is a “one of a kind” structure and the only building Kelly designed.


Photo from the Blanton Museum of Art website.

The photo above is of one of the first models created for the design of the building’s initial concept in the mid-1980s. Austin incorporates four elements that are repeatedly found in Ellsworth Kelly’s work: Spectrum, Black and White, Color Grid, and Totem.

The four elements of Austin.

It was fascinating to hear project architect Rick Archer, of Overland Partners in San Antonio, share the challenges and privileges of the process of bringing Kelly’s artistic design concept to fruition.  Functional and aesthetic decisions such as wall thickness, proportion, HVAC, lighting and finish selections were just the beginning of the collaboration.  As a person of faith, Rick related his interesting conversations with the atheist Ellsworth Kelly to our group. Regardless of your beliefs, the spiritual nature of the chapel is unmistakable.

Nine Colors on Black II, 1954. Photograph from Ellsworth Kelly Studio.

The color grid above is one of the precursors to the south-facade window of Austin. It is the only one of Kelly’s grids that glows with natural light.


The East and West facades of Austin feature circular stained glass windows that were based on his Spectrum series created as early as 1953. The two gorgeous windows pictured above face one another and create a beautiful play of the light inside the building that constantly changes with the available sunlight.

Study for Spectrum IV, 1967. Photography from the Ellsworth Kelly Studio.

Photography from the Austin Chronicle.

As you enter the building, the focal point is the eighteen-foot-high wooden sculpture made of reclaimed redwood. Kelly called these works of art his Totems.

Study for Stations of the Cross, 1987. Photography from the Ellsworth Kelly Studio.

There are fourteen marble panels lining the walls of Austin representing the Stations of the Cross. They are a culmination of one of the most sought-after genres of Kelly’s work using only black and white.  Of special note, the white marble is from the recently reopened quarry in Carrara, Italy where the marble for Michelangelo’s Pieta was quarried in the 15th century.  The black marble is from Belgium.

Photography from Ellsworth Kelly Foundation/Courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin.

This work of art is an inspirational and “must-see” Texas destination!  Enjoy!


“I think that if you can turn off the mind and look only with the eyes, ultimately everything becomes abstract.”

— Ellsworth Kelly




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