In all, it took five years for Austin to come to fruition. Kelly was involved in every aspect of the construction, from selecting the exterior stone (limestone from Spain) to deciding where the electrical outlets should go. The paint on the walls is even the same shade of white Kelly used in his personal studio in upstate New York. Wicha had a weekly check-in with the artist for the better part of 2015, concerning decisions large and small. Their last phone call was right before Christmas, when she received his approval for the water seepage system outside. It was the last box that needed to be checked, she says; days later, the 92-year-old artist died.
When I visited the site this past November, Austin was still surrounded by temporary fencing. The area was loud with construction noise, which melted away as we walked inside.
The first thing you notice is how high the ceilings are. From the outside, Austin is dwarfed by the Brutalist academic buildings that ring it. But the space seems to expand as you enter, said Wicha. “When I first walked in here, I was like ‘[Kelly] had the perfect sense of scale.’” Foster attributes the sensation, “to the light and the fact that the walls are white. It just expands upward, and there's a kind of soaring quality to the proportions.”
The interior features four major motifs from Kelly’s career. The first, the use of black and white, is represented in a series of marble panels along the walls closest to the entrance. Second is the totem, the name given to a series of elongated sculptural columns Kelly began making in 1972. Austin’s totem, 18 feet tall and made of redwood, stands in the rear where the pulpit might be if this were a church. The third motif is the color spectrum, represented by two windows resembling color wheels; and the fourth is the colored grid, reflected in the nine squares of rainbow-hued glass embedded in the building’s front wall.