Thousands line up for first look at Ellsworth Kelly’s ‘Austin’ at Blanton


AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than a thousand people got in a line that snaked for hours around the front of the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas on Sunday.

They waited to glimpse artist Ellsworth Kelly’s outdoor, structural art piece “Austin” which officially opened Feb.18. “Austin” is a permanent piece of the Blanton’s collection and will remain on campus.

The structure is white and pristine on the outside — a 2,715-square-foot stone building with rainbow starbursts of geometric shapes visible to those inside and outside.

Those who step inside will also see a large wooden totem and black and white marble panels, creating a piece which nods to many of Kelly’s signature styles. The piece looks like a chapel, but doesn’t celebrate any particular religion.

Leaders at the Blanton say Kelly imagined this spot to be one of “joy and contemplation.”

The work of art was constructed on campus as part of a $23 million campaign to realize Kelly’s decades-old idea for this building. Of that, $19 million went to the construction, materials and for the land it’s on. The rest — $4 million — will go towards an endowment to maintain the piece over time and to study more of Kelly’s work.

“It’s not going to get taken down and it won’t change,” Simone Wicha, director of the Blanton Museum of Art.

Many donors, UT alumni and collectors of Kelly’s work have been pitching in to make this a reality. Kelly gifted the building design in January 2015 and the museum broke ground on construction in October 2015. Kelly died later that year at the age of 92.

This project is the first and only building Kelly designed. As a World War II veteran, Kelly went to France to study art and architecture. Kelly first came up with the design for what is now “Austin” in 1986, but instead of having it housed with a private collector, he decided he wanted it to be preserved in a public place and selected the Blanton as its home.

“He realized how monumental this piece was and how important it would be for it to be cared for and part of the public,” Wicha said.

Though Kelly lived most of his life in New York, he made a habit of naming his works after the places with which they are connected, which is how “Austin” got its name.

“For me, that is one of the great gifts for us, that he chooses to name this work for our city,” Wicha said. She believes this piece is significant for her museum and for the city of Austin.

“Realizing the most monumental piece by one of American arts’ greatest artists, I think is a distinction for us,” Wicha said. “I think it makes this city and this museum an international destination for the arts and we’re tremendously proud of that. But mostly we’re honored that Ellsworth trusted us with his vision.”

The stone building’s sister piece is another exhibit within the Blanton which provides the story behind “Austin” as well as more of Kelly’s works.The exhibit will be on display through April 29, 2018.

Sunday there were 1,500 visitors to the “Austin” by Ellsworth Kelly structure and an additional 2,000 visitors to the Blanton Museum of Art itself.

The Blanton Museum of Art says it is home to the largest and most comprehensive collection of art in Central Texas and staff there hope this piece helps cements its role in Texas’ art culture.

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