New meditative space near Blanton Museum of Art to open this month

Brooke Vincent

An array of colorful stained glass from Munich, Germany, a redwood totem sourced from northern California and marble flown in from Greece and Italy will all come together in “Austin,” the only free-standing building designed by the late artist Ellsworth Kelly.

Located next to the Blanton Museum of Art, the chapel-style building will open Feb. 18 in conjunction with the exhibition, “Form into Spirit: Ellsworth Kelly’s ‘Austin,’” a collection of 96 works from the artist’s years in France.

“(Ellsworth Kelly) wasn’t a religious man, but he understood the uplifting power of being in a beautiful environment,” said Carter Foster, Blanton deputy director of curatorial affairs. “Beauty and art definitely had a spiritual side for him. We all need to get away from the world at some point in our day.”

The building was designed by Kelly in 1986, but was commissioned to be built on the UT campus in January 2015, 11 months before Kelly died.  

The building’s 32 stained-glass windows are each made up of four stacked colored panels and arranged in three designs: color grid, starburst and
tumbling squares.

“It’s this very blurry soft light, it looks like watercolor,” Foster said. “They have this softness to them. The way they hit the walls at different times of the day, it’s a building that will reveal itself slowly
over time.”

Peter Carlson, a custom fabricator who collaborated with Kelly for more than 40 years, worked with the artist to source the redwood for the totem inside the chapel and on the 14 black-and-white abstract interpretations of the stations of the cross on the walls.

“He was very particular about what would be acceptable and not acceptable of the stone and the redwood,” Carlson said. “When you look at the stone pieces, all the white almost has a
translucency of flesh. It’s really interesting. Your eye doesn’t stop on the surface, you really sink into it and it’s
really amazing.”

The Blanton Museum fundraised $23 million for the construction of the building, $2 million of which came from Suzanne Booth and David G. Booth, who are longtime collectors of Kelly’s work.   

“It’s contemplative, meditative,” Suzanne Booth said. “People can walk in there on their way to class. (Ellsworth and his partner) were really so focused on legacy. I think that’s what’s so cool. At the end of his life he got to do something that was really permanent.”