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Clyfford Still Museum in Denver reintroduces the life and work of the American artist
Installation view of the Clyfford Still Museum's inaugural exhibition. The experience of the collection is enlivened by natural light that enters the galleries through a series of skylights over a cast-in-place, perforated concrete ceiling.
DENVER, CO.- The Clyfford Still Museum opened its doors to the public on November 18, 2011, reintroducing the life and work of one of America’s most significant yet least understood artists. The new museum, which houses 94% of Clyfford Still’s total creative output, allows the public to explore the full trajectory of the artist’s 60-year career for the first time, including his rarely seen figurative works from the 1930s, paintings from the 1960s and 1970s created after Still’s retreat from the commercial art world, and the hundreds of works on paper that the artist created, often on a near-daily basis. The museum’s collection of approximately 2,400 paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures, the majority of which have never been on public display before, provides an unprecedented opportunity to reflect on the full scope of Still’s legacy and his profound influence on American art.

Designed by Brad Cloepfil and Allied Works Architecture, the new museum provides visitors with an intimate environment to experience the art of Clyfford Still. The museum’s inaugural exhibition, co-curated by Director Dean Sobel and Adjunct Curator David Anfam, features approximately 110 works drawn from the Still collection, exploring both the artist’s early arrival at complete abstraction as well as the ongoing significance of figuration on his later work. The exhibition includes a number of never-before-displayed paintings, works on paper, and objects from Still’s personal archives, as well as the only three sculptures by Still in existence.

“Still is considered among the most important and influential painters of the twentieth century, though the vast majority of his work has never been exhibited publicly,” said Dean Sobel, Director of the Clyfford Still Museum. “Our prior knowledge of Still was based on a small fraction of works that were in the public realm, a mere six percent of the artist’s creative output. The opening of the museum provides unprecedented insight into the life and work of Clyfford Still, and redefines how the artist is considered within the art historical canon. Our inaugural exhibition, which traces the arc of Still’s career from his early figurative paintings, through his monumental abstract canvases, to his late works on paper, provides an overview of the artist’s primary imagery and establishes Still as one of the first of his American peers to realize the concept of a monumental, pure abstraction.”

After achieving national recognition and prominence for his abstract works in the 1940s and early 1950s, Still ended his relationship with commercial galleries in 1951, infrequently exhibiting his work thereafter. Following the artist’s death in 1980, the Still collection, comprising approximately 2,400 works by the artist, was sealed off completely from public and scholarly view. Still’s will stipulated that his estate be given in its entirety to an American city willing to establish “permanent quarters” dedicated solely to his work, ensuring its survival for exhibition and study. In August 2004, the City of Denver, under the leadership of then Mayor John Hickenlooper, was selected by Still’s wife, Patricia Still, to receive the substantial Still collection. In 2005, Patricia Still also bequeathed to the city her own estate, which included select works by her husband as well as his complete archive.

“Seven years ago Patricia Still, the wife of Clyfford Still, entrusted us with her husband’s legacy and asked us to build a home for his work in Denver,” said Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. “Colorado’s growing arts community is gaining the world’s attention. Having one of the most comprehensive single-artist museums in the world reside in Denver is an incredible collection for the city and our state.”

Inaugural Exhibition
Curated by Director Dean Sobel and Adjunct Curator David Anfam, the museum’s inaugural exhibition presents a comprehensive survey of Still’s artistic career from 1925 through the late 1970s, documenting the evolution of his primary imagery and motifs, his early arrival at abstraction, and the range of his media. The exhibition is the first to explore Still’s striking figurative work created before World War II, which points to the significance of figuration throughout the artist’s oeuvre, even in his most apparently nonrepresentational compositions. The exhibition also considers rarely seen paintings and drawings produced by Still after he retreated from the New York art world to Maryland in 1961, providing visitors with a greater understanding of Still’s impact on and relevance to Abstract Expressionism, as well as later artistic movements.

“Still spearheaded what would become known as Abstract Expressionism, attaining a powerful, singular idiom early on that owed little or nothing to contemporary developments in New York,” said David Anfam. “The inaugural show of the Clyfford Still Museum aims to redefine our grasp of Still’s vision in both its scope and sustained intensity—highlighting his extraordinary use of color, draftsmanship, gesture, figuration, serial procedures, and scale. Overall, Still’s achievement reveals him as a momentous eminence of modern art—and one still meaningful for the present.”

Installed over the course of nine discrete galleries on the museum’s second floor, the exhibition establishes a chronology of Still’s 60-year career to provide an overview of the stylistic evolution of his oeuvre and the places where he created these works—including Alberta, Canada; eastern Washington State; Richmond, Virginia; San Francisco; New York City; and rural Maryland. The first exhibition galleries present Still’s figurative and landscape paintings from the late 1920s and early 1930s, which demonstrate his representational style and introduce characteristics that mark his later work, including his emphasis on the vertical form. At the center of the exhibition are a number of never-before-seen paintings, drawings, and prints made by Still in the 1940s that reveal the artist’s arrival at characteristics of Abstract Expressionism earlier than his peers, including Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem De Kooning. Later galleries show Still’s dramatic expansion of scale, his rarely displayed works on paper from all periods of his career, and his works from the 1960s and 1970s, which are marked by a lighter palette and greater economy of imagery. Visitors will gain further insight into Still’s personal history and creative process through the presentation of select objects from the Clyfford Still Archives on the museum’s first floor, including letters, photographs, tools and materials, and various personal effects.

Exhibition highlights includes:
• PH-77 – A figurative work painted in 1936 that portrays field workers with oversized hands and arms—a feature common to Still’s work at the time. Still’s highly expressive interpretation of the subject denotes his increasing interest in abstracting the human form.

• PH-343 – This 1937 painting demonstrates Still’s transition from figuration into abstraction, with a canvas that loosely depicts a farmer and his farming tools. Divided left and right between the warm earth tones used to paint the human form, and the black and white farmer’s tools, the work shows early techniques that Still used in his later abstractions.

• 1944-N No. 1 (PH-235) – Featuring jagged streaks of blue, red, yellow, and white, Still’s oversized, predominately black canvas is widely believed to be the first example of Abstract Expressionism as we conceive of it. Though Abstract Expressionism is identified as a New York movement, this painting was made during Still’s stay in Richmond, Virginia, where he was a visiting professor from 1944 to 1945, three years before Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings were made.

• 1957-J No. 2 (PH-401) – This 9-by-13-foot mural features Still’s iconic red, black, and white forms that seem to be simultaneously drawing towards each other and breaking apart. Like many artists working in New York at this time, this painting is indicative of Still’s use of scale to create immersive environments for the viewer.

• PH-1023 – After a decade of living in New York, Still moved to rural Maryland in 1961, where he lived and worked in virtual seclusion until his death in 1980. Compared with his densely populated canvases of the late 1940s and 1950s, this painting from 1976 demonstrates Still’s exploitation of the bare canvas and more minimal gesture that marked the artist’s final works.



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