Clyfford Still Museum announces departure of director Dean Sobel

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Clyfford Still Museum announces departure of director Dean Sobel
Sobel has accepted the position of Professor of the Practice of Art History and Museum Studies with the University of Denver beginning with the fall 2020 quarter. Photo: Chris Schneider.

DENVER, CO.- The Clyfford Still Museum announced today that Dean Sobel will be stepping down as the Museum’s director in September 2020. Sobel has accepted the position of Professor of the Practice of Art History and Museum Studies with the University of Denver beginning with the fall 2020 quarter.

Sobel joined the Museum in 2005 and spearheaded the efforts to create a new, permanent “collections-centered” institution for the over 3,400 artworks comprising the Clyfford Still collections. He led the process of selecting Brad Cloepfil and Allied Works Architecture as the architect for the new Museum, successfully raised approximately $35 million for the early years’ operations and the Museum building, and he managed the construction of the now nationally-acclaimed Museum, which opened to the public in November 2011. Sobel established the vision for the Museum’s exhibitions and public programming and oversaw nine years of successful projects that solidified the Museum’s reputation as a world-class cultural destination. He also established the Clyfford Still Museum Research Center, which conducted three national symposia, and he oversaw the publication of seven scholarly catalogs and the launch of the Clyfford Still catalogue raisonné in 2018. Additionally, Sobel successfully led the Museum through the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) accreditation process in 2019, helped to establish the financial stability of the institution, and assisted the Board in securing an 18,750 sq. ft. parcel of land directly west of the Museum for future expansion.

“When I joined the small group of individuals nearly 15 years ago who faithfully signed on to create this new institution for Denver, none of us could have predicted how warmly the Museum would be received and, frankly, how wonderfully it would turn out,” Sobel said. “I am incredibly grateful to the many donors, Board and staff members, city officials and other stakeholders, Still family members, and enthusiastic visitors who have made this position a dream of a lifetime.”

With the artist’s legacy newly invigorated, the Museum’s attendance has grown by more than 37% from the post-inaugural year period through 2019. To date, the Museum has mounted over 30 special exhibitions, along with other collections reinstallations, including two joint exhibitions with the Denver Art Museum. Through the Museum’s Artists Select series, Sobel devised important curatorial projects with renowned artists including Mark Bradford, Julian Schnabel, Roni Horn, Mark Mothersbaugh, and Jonas Burgert. Sobel also worked with the City and County of Denver and Clyfford Still’s children to arrange for the loan of nine of Still’s masterworks from the Museum’s collection for an exhibition mounted by the Royal Academy in London, England and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. More than 650,000 people experienced the works of Clyfford Still in-person during these two exhibitions. Sobel has also forged partnerships with dozens of other institutions, both locally and nationally.

“Dean Sobel was instrumental in bringing the Clyfford Still Museum from a concept on paper to realization as a vibrant institution,” remarked Christopher Hunt, Board President. “Dean’s vision, leadership, and creativity have laid a solid foundation to ensure the Clyfford Still Museum will remain one of the most treasured art institutions in the world long after his departure. It has been a privilege to collaborate with Dean over the past 15 years.”

Prior to joining the Clyfford Still Museum, from 2000 to 2005, Sobel was the Director of the Aspen Art Museum, a non-collecting kunsthalle, where he led the institution through its accreditation process and developed museum goals and programs for its 25th anniversary, including an ambitious presentation of site-specific installations presented around Aspen. Prior to that appointment, from 1995 to 2000, Sobel was Chief Curator at the Milwaukee Art Museum, where he also held the position of Curator of Contemporary Art.

Sobel’s final project for the Museum will be, appropriately, the exhibition and related publication Clyfford Still in Maryland, dedicated to Still’s last works, scheduled to open on September 18, 2020.

Board President Christopher Hunt said that the Museum’s Board of Directors will quickly begin the process of selecting a replacement and that Sobel will continue actively working as the Museum’s director for the next five months. Hunt added, “We look forward to continuing the Museum’s relationship with Dean and to forging a stronger relationship with the University of Denver and their academic programs going forward.”

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