Ellsworth Kelly’s ‘Austin’ opens to acclaim

Raga Justin

Anthropology freshman Manuel Ortiz gazes at a starburst of multicolored glass windows, set high in the stark white walls of the newly-opened “Austin” exhibit, located right outside of the Blanton Museum of Art.  

“I felt very at peace in there,” Ortiz said. “It was calming.”

Nearly 2000 people attended Sunday’s opening ceremony of the late artist Ellsworth Kelly’s ‘Austin.’ Mayor Steve Adler and University President Gregory Fenves were among those to speak during the ceremony, as well as Blanton director Simone Jamille Wicha and Kelly’s longtime partner Jack Shear.

Hundreds more visitors waited in lines, which wrapped around the Blanton, to spend a few moments inside the long-awaited freestanding structure. The exhibit is the only one of its kind Kelly designed during a career as one of the most notable American artists in the post-war era.

Kelly died of cancer in December 2015, only months after work on the site began. But yesterday, Shear said his memory would live on through “Austin.”

“It’s hard to be here on this day,” said Shear, director of the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation. “People keep asking me what Ellsworth would’ve thought (and) I think that his life is reflected in this building in so many ways. Having this here, having Ellsworth’s home here in ‘Austin’ means so much to me, and I’m sure Ellsworth would have said the same thing.”

After designing what would later become “Austin” in the 1980s for a private collector, Kelly decided he would rather have the building accessible to the public, said Blanton’s marketing director Carlotta Stankiewicz.

Local art patrons Jeanne and Mickey Klein approached Wicha in 2012 with the abandoned plans, proposing to build the exhibit at UT. Kelly agreed to the collaboration in January 2015.

Wicha called the work a “game-changer” for Austin. 

“It makes this city an international destination for the visual arts, and I hope it continues to inspire creativity,” Wicha said. 

Mayor Adler said the city of Austin is “incredibly fortunate” to house the culmination of Kelly’s career. Adler also said the moment would go down as one of his favorites in his time as mayor. 

“Ellsworth Kelly, his ‘Austin’, is going to become immediately an iconic feature for this city,” Adler said. “Austin, which is known for its vibrant, creative culture, has now risen to new heights. It’s a great day.”

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that nearly 200 people attended the exhibit's opening. The actual attendance was close to 2000. The Texan regrets this error.