A Place of Calm and Light
The Blanton to build a structure designed by Ellsworth Kelly
By Robert Faires,
1:20PM, Thu. Feb. 12, 2015
Imagine being able to walk into an Ellsworth Kelly painting – to be surrounded by his exquisitely simple, playful shapes, to bathe in his pure, bright colors. Well, soon you'll get to do something like that in Austin in Austin, which is the title of a building designed by the artist and being built by the Blanton Museum of Art.
This week, the University of Texas museum announced that it was acquiring this unique Kelly artwork – the only building designed by the 91-year-old National Medal of Arts recipient – and intended to construct it on the Blanton grounds once fundraising for the $15 million structure is complete.
The stone building, measuring 73 x 60 feet, resembles a small chapel, with its arched ceilings and large windows of brightly colored glass windows. Within the building will be displayed a tall, columnar redwood sculpture and 14 black-and-white marble panels of Kelly's design. While Kelly drew inspiration from the great cathedrals of France, he insists that he "conceived this project without a religious program. I hope visitors will experience Austin as a place of calm and light.” All of the designs have been given to the museum by the artist.
Kelly has been waiting almost 30 years to see his design realized. The building was originally commissioned by a private collector in 1986, but was never built. Hiram Butler, a Houston gallerist and UT alum, introduced the project to the Blanton, and for the past two years, Director Simone Wicha and Veronica Roberts, the Blanton’s curator of modern and contemporary art, have been working with Kelly, his studio, and UT on the development of the project. Kelly has chosen Michael Mayer of the Franz Mayer studio of Munich, the leading manufacturer of stained glass, to fabricate the windows, and Peter Carlson of Carlson LLC – a longtime collaborator of Kelly's – to oversee creation of Austin's wooden totem and stone panels. Overland Partners of San Antonio will serve as project architect and Linbeck Group will supervise construction.
Of the $15 million projected to construct Austin, $7 million has already been raised from three of the museum's biggest patrons: the Blanton family, which has committed $2 million from the Scurlock Foundation, along with donations from Leslie and Jack S. Blanton, Jr., Elizabeth and Peter Wareing, and Kelli and Eddy S. Blanton: Jeanne Klein and Michael Klein, who have pledged $2 million; and Suzanne Deal Booth and David G. Booth, who have pledged $2 million as well. The remainder will be raised through a capital campaign. To assist in the upkeep of the structure and work in it once it's built, UT President Bill Powers – recently honored at the Blanton Gala – has committed $1 million in earnings from the Longhorn Network to launch an endowment.
This won't be the only work by Kelly that will soon join the two pieces that the Blanton already holds: the 1960 painting High Yellow – the cheery abstract that suggests a canary-colored Easter egg hovering in a blue sky over a green lawn – that novelist James A. Michener and his wife Mari gave to the museum and an untitled print that was a gift from artist Robert Rauschenberg. David Booth is securing Kelly's 2007 painting Red Relief with White to add to the collection.
For more information, visit www.blantonmuseum.org.