Art World Game Changer

Wealthy Houston donors pitch in to support Austin's answer to the Rothko Chapel

Houston donors pitch in to support Austin's answer to Rothko Chapel

Ellsworth Kelly cathedral blanton museum
This unique Ellsworth Kelly piece will be part of the Blanton's permanent collection.  Rendering courtesy of Blanton Museum
Ellsworth Kelly cathedral blanton museum
An interior rendering of Kelly's piece. Rendering courtesy of Blanton Museum
Ellsworth Kelly cathedral blanton museum
Ellsworth Kelly cathedral blanton museum

On the eve of The Blanton Museum of Art's highly anticipated gala Saturday night in Austin, the organization announced its newest acquisition. The museum on the campus of the University of Texas will be home to Ellsworth Kelly's Austin, the only stand-alone structure created by the modernist painter, sculptor, draughtsman and printmaker. 

The installation, which will be part of the Blanton's permanent collection, is described as "a 2,715-square-foot stone building with luminous colored glass windows, a totemic wood sculpture, and 14 black-and-white stone panels in marble, all designed by the artist."

  "Move out of the way, Houston, with your fancy Rothko Chapel. Austin’s fix’n to get one of its own."  

"It is a great privilege for the Blanton to share the vision of one of the greatest artists of our time,"Blanton Director Simone Wicha said in a release. "Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin will be a joyful place of inspiration on The University of Texas campus, welcoming millions of visitors from around the world. A treasure in the Blanton's collection, it will transform the landscape of this vibrant city and have a lasting impact on all who experience it."

Hyperallergic, the respected online art forum, noted that, with the acquisition, Austin will join Houston as a major Texas city with a unique artist chapel. In the article Will Ellsworth Kelley's Austin Santuary Out-Transcend Houston's Rothko Chapel?,  Laura C. Mallone wrote, "Move out of the way, Houston, with your fancy Rothko Chapel. Austin’s fix’n to get one of its own."

And The New York Times noted, "While not explicitly called a chapel — it’s been titled “Austin” — the building echoes Modernist artist-commissioned buildings like the Rothko Chapel in Houston and Henri Matisse’s Chapelle du Rosaire in Southern France."

In a release, Kelly described the work, which was originally conceived in 1986 for a private collector but never realized, as follows: 

Austin is part of a journey that began nearly 70 years ago. In Boston in 1947, as an art student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, I discovered a 12th-century fresco in the museum’s collection that made a tremendous impression on me. Later, when I was living and working in Paris, I would put my bike on a train and visit early architectural sites all over France. I was intrigued by Romanesque and Byzantine art and architecture. While the simplicity and purity of these forms had a great influence on my art, I conceived this project without a religious program. I hope visitors will experience Austin as a place of calm and light."

Kelly has gifted the design concept for the work, and the museum has launched a campaign to raise $15 million for the project.

The Blanton has already secured early commitments totaling $7 million, including donations from Houstonians Leslie and Jack S. Blanton Jr., Elizabeth and Peter Wareing, Kelli and Eddy S. Blanton and the Scurlock Foundation. Former Houstonians Jeanne and Michael Klein, who now live in New Mexico, and Austin philanthropists David G. Booth and Suzanne Deal Booth have also made major financial commitments to the Austin project. Suzanne Deal Booth funded the James Turrell skyspace installation at Rice University.

A $1 million endowment from University of Texas president Bill Powers, funded by earnings from the Longhorn Network, will help to care for and conserve the installation. 

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CultureMap editor-in-chief Clifford Pugh contributed to this report.