I was fortunate enough to be in Denver over the holidays where the new Clyfford Still Museum recently opened. He is one of my favorite painters and the new museum highlights his work beautifully.
Clyfford Still was among the first generation of Abstract Expressionists who developed a new, powerful approach to painting in the years immediately following World War II. Still’s contemporaries included Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko. Though the styles and approaches of these artists varied considerably, Abstract Expressionism is marked by abstract forms, expressive brushwork, and monumental scale, all of which were used to convey universal themes about creation, life, struggle, and death, themes that took on a considerable relevance during and after World War II.
Described by many as the most anti-traditional of the Abstract Expressionists, Still is credited with laying the groundwork for the movement. Still’s shift from representational painting to abstraction occurred between 1938 and 1942, earlier than his colleagues, who continued to paint in figurative-surrealist styles well into the 1940s.
After the artist’s death in 1980, the Clyfford Still Estate was sealed off from public and scholarly view. Still’s will stipulated that his estate be given in its entirety to an American city willing to establish a permanent museum dedicated solely to his work. The City of Denver was selected by Still’s wife, Patricia Still, to receive the collection. In 2005, Patricia Still also bequeathed to the city her own estate, which included select paintings by her husband as well as his complete archives. The Still Museum collection, which represents nearly 94 percent of the artist’s lifetime output, includes approximately 2,400 works created between 1920 and 1980.
The Museum, designed by Allied Works Architecture is conceived as a solid, a mass of concrete, deriving its presence from the earth—a single construction that is opened up by natural light and that itself becomes the source of light for the art within. The museum structure exists to make room for the voice of a single artist. The Still Museum’s final design is a structure made of highly textured and resurfaced concrete that will modify light on both the exterior and interior of the Museum. Galleries, totaling approximately 10,000 square feet, feature changing exhibits of work from throughout Clyfford Still’s career.