The late artist Ellsworth Kelly’s first and last work of architecture, the Austin Chapel, has recently been completed by the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas. Titled Austin, honoring the artist’s tradition of naming particular works for the places for which they are destined, the structure is the first and only freestanding building the artist has designed – and will be his most lasting legacy.
The monumental concrete building with luminious coloured glass windows, a totemic wood sculpture, and fourteen black-and-white stone panels in marble, are envisioned by Kelly as a site for joy and contemplation. All original design and plan details, such as the need for the building to be ”widely accessible” and ”well maintained”, were adhered to by the museum’s curators.
Known for his distinct use of bright colour, penchant for totem-shaped sculptures and love of geometric shapes, Kelly designed the building’s exterior of white stone with colored glass windows grouped in patterns around the building’s facade. The coloured glass mimics stained glass windows found on traditional Catholic churches, and creates an interesting dappled light effect on the inside.
The building’s curving white forms and glowing stained glass windows – the first time the artist’s colours have been rendered in glass – create an ethereal, memorable space. The interior features an 18-foot tall totem made of redwood and a set of 14 monochrome marble panels titled, ‘Stations of the Cross’. These pay homage to the 14 images of Jesus on the day of his crucifixion. Despite these obvious religious design references, Kelly wanted the chapel to remain secular and refused to accept funding from a religious church to keep his vision and to produce the chapel “without a religious program”.
All images by Ellsworth Kelly Foundation.
Courtesy of Blanton Museum of Art.