As an artist, Ellsworth Kelly could and often did reduce a subject to form and color. The results were never flashy; but his paintings were always intriguing for me to contemplate. I always found them offbeat and individual, and I could always recognize and appreciate an Ellsworth Kelly work from a considerable distance.
When I heard that the only building he designed was being erected on the grounds of the Blanton Museum on the campus of the University of Texas, I wanted to travel there to see it. Called “Austin”, its construction began a couple of months before Kelly died after a successful, multi-decade career. This is his last work.
Although his seemingly simple designs were often inspired by European churches, this building is not a chapel although many think it is. It’s more of a place for contemplation reduced to shape and color. Its 2 sets of stained glass windows might be judged austere but they were so brilliantly colorful to me that they appeared to burst as I looked at them.
Very popular in Europe, especially in France, Ellsworth Kelly was, as an artist, unusually focused on where his works were going. His shapes and colors may appear facile and random, but they are not. He was inspired by plants, buildings, religious themes, etc.
To see Ellsworth Kelly’s only building outside the Blanton, visitors must get a ticket in the museum, which is also worth seeing. These tickets are included with general admission and the building he designed was, to me, a significant achievement in the form of a curving almost 3,000-square-feet, perfectly balanced white stone building. Called “Totem” and seen just below, there’s an eye-catching 18-foot sculpture inside that’s placed where a cross would typically be in a church. I can see why many call this a chapel.
Kelly designed his first and only building in the last century for a TV producer in California named Douglas Kramer, but it wasn’t built until the artist gifted the project to the Blanton. It officially opened to the public in February, 2018.
If you think that Ellsworth Kelly’s works are too simple to sell, be advised that Red Curve V sold for $4.4 million 5 years ago to become the 2nd highest price every paid for one of his paintings.
Several people have told me that they want to see his only building, but few will organized a trip around it like I did.