“These are not paintings in the usual sense; they are life and death merging in a fearful union.” –Clyfford Still
The news announcing Denver as the future home of the Clyfford Still Museum was the culmination of efforts put forth by Mayor John Hickenlooper; Denise Montgomery, the director of the Mayer’s Office of Art, Culture and Film; and Curt Freed, Clyfford and Patricia Still’s nephew. This is one more step in an on-going process to raise Denver up a notch in the cultural world. In a press release from the Mayor’s office on August 9, 2004, Hickenlooper said, “This is an historic moment in the evolution of Denver as a cultural center for our residents and visitors from throughout the region, country and world.”
Clyfford Still, who was one of the founders of the Abstract Expressionist movement, was critical of the art market and moved away from New York City, relinquishing very few of his paintings. Therefore the Clyfford Still Museum, opening in 2009, will have approximately 2200 pieces of art that have been locked away in storage for the past two decades. The process of choosing an architect is in the final stages and all of the architects who are submitting plans have shown the same theme of simplicity that is reflective of Still’s works. “All the firms tend to lean toward restraint rather than an iconic building,” Dean Sobel, the Still Museum director, said in an interview with the Rocky Mountain News on September 15, 2006.
Though Still painted on the large scale typical of the Abstract Expressionists, his compositions have none of the busy-ness of Pollack or de Kooning; rather, he works in technique similar to Motherwell and Rothko. He said of his work, “I hold it imperative to evolve an instrument of thought which will aid in cutting through all cultural opiates, past and present, so that a direct, immediate and truly free vision can be achieved…and I affirm my profound concern to achieve a purpose beyond vanity, ambition or remembrance.”
His work should be exhibited in a simple way, not cluttering the walls with paintings, drawings, scrapbooks and sculptures. I am not necessarily advocating one painting per gallery, but that the paintings are allowed to occupy their own space and define the atmosphere around it. Still’s work is intimate and should be presented in a way that allows visitors to linger with them.
The Clyfford Still Museum is to be located adjacent to the Denver Art Museum and I think this is appropriate. It is important for Denver to keep the majority of art in a central and accessible location until the city is more established on national scale. Keeping the Still Museum close to the DAM will perhaps entice viewers to check out the work of an artist that they may never have heard of before. Hopefully, with websites such as http://www.clyffordstill.net and http://www.clyffordstillmuseum.org the public will have a better understanding of the works when they visit the museum.
Clyfford Still is an important figure and should not be overlooked for his influence on the art movement of his time and ours. The opening of this museum should illuminate Still’s place among the Abstract Expressionists and allow him to be better understood. His reclusive nature has kept him out of the public’s eye and with the opening of his collection there will the opportunity for books and journals to study him and his works. It is a credit to Denver’s leaders that they fought so hard to bring the collection here. It is, indeed, an historic moment.