Ellsworth Kelly's Austin

Austin in Depth

“I hope visitors will experience Austin as a place of calm and light. Go there and rest your eyes, rest your mind.”

–Ellsworth Kelly

Austin is the culmination of Ellsworth Kelly’s seven-decade career. It is the only building he ever designed, though his painting and sculpture were always integrally connected to architecture and space. In Austin, Kelly developed a structure in tandem with multiple artistic elements to create a unified aesthetic statement and an immersive environment. Though it has multiple components, each with their own history within his body of work, Kelly conceived Austin as an unchanging, holistic and integrated single work of art. In simplest terms, Austin is a place in which to experience the artist’s color, form and light and the harmonious beauty they create together. Because its interior light–defined by three striking stained glass windows–slowly but constantly changes with the intensity and angle of the sun, Austin is also a time-based work, one intimately attuned to nature. Kelly himself was constantly inspired by the natural world and was deeply aware of how perception can transform ordinary things into extraordinary–even spiritual–experiences, if we open ourselves to that possibility.

Born in Newburgh, New York, and raised in New Jersey, Ellsworth Kelly displayed artistic talent and an exceptionally keen sense of observation as a boy and adolescent. As with many young men of his generation, his life was influenced by the global upheaval of World War II and the social transformations and opportunities it created. After the war, the aspiring young artist returned to France for an extended time, and it’s culture would have a lasting impact on his work.

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If the conceptual origin and artistic lineage of Austin belongs to the artist’s time in France and his love of Romanesque, Gothic, and Judeo-Christian artistic traditions, the start of its actual realization happened in California and Spencertown, New York, in the mid- to late 1980s. The prominent television producer and distinguished art collector Douglas S. Cramer had a vineyard in Santa Ynez, California, north of Santa Barbara, where the “Cramer chapel,” as Austin’s first iteration was labeled in blueprints, was to stand.

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Discussions to have Kelly’s last monumental work built on the University of Texas at Austin began in 2012. By January 2015, the artist signed a gift agreement with the Blanton and university, and the museum launched a $23 million campaign to construct, fabricate, and build an endowment for the operation, care, and conservation of the work.

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The art Kelly conceived for Austin reflects four different motifs: Black and White, Totem, Spectrum, and Color Grid. All are motifs he explored in depth over decades and in multiple mediums, including painting, drawing, sculpture and printmaking.

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