Tour America's Treasures

An invitation to tour America's historical sites...

Monday, April 30, 2012

Clyfford Still Museum

View Clyfford Still Museum in a larger map

Visit our Tour Destination: Colorado page to see the entire tour of the state’s Save America’s Treasures sites.

Clyfford Still, 1949-No. 1 (PH-385), 1949.  Oil on canvas,
105.5 x 81 in.  Photo: Ben Blackwell  © Clyfford Still Estate

Clyfford Still Museum
1250 Bannock Street
Denver, CO

The Treasure:  The art of American abstract expressionist Clyfford Still.

Accessibility:  Thanks to the opening of the Clyfford Still Museum in November 2011, the work of Clyfford Still is now much more accessible than ever before. The museum’s opening exhibition showcased more than 100 works by Still displayed chronologically in nine galleries.

Clyfford Still, 1942-No. 2 (PH-85), 1942.
Oil on canvas, 41.5 x 38.1 in.
Photo: Jay Baker  © Clyfford Still Estate
Background:  Clyfford Still (1904-1980) saw life in primal—even volcanic—terms. He was perpetually frustrated by the weakness of all art, past and present, in depicting, challenging, and confronting the universal forces that drive the world. He wanted an art capable of capturing immensity, fire, and defiance—and realized early in his career that he would have to invent his own forms to capture his vision.

“These are not paintings in the usual sense,” Still wrote. “They are life and death merging in fearful union. As for me, they kindle a fire; through them I breathe again, hold a golden cord, find my own revelation.”

In the early 1940s, Still forced himself to go beyond the surrealist conventions popular in modern art circles to create huge works of abstract expressionism. Still blazed a path that opened new areas of exploration for great American artists such as Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and Jackson Pollock.

But Still’s art remained fascinatingly different and fiercely personal. He led in developing the Color Field style, working with abstract fields of color on monumental canvases, applying his paints with palette knives to create raw textures that evoke mysterious—even transcendent—suggestions of primal depths.  As Still once said, “You can turn the lights out. The paintings will carry their own fire.”

Clyfford Still, 1954-No. 2 (PH-1123), 1954.  Oil on canvas, 114 x 155 in.
Photo: Ben Blackwell  © Clyfford Still Estate

Clyfford Still, PH-950, 1950.  Oil on canvas, 92 x 70 in.
Photo: Ben Blackwell  © Clyfford Still Estate

Clyfford Still, PH-215, 1935.  Oil on canvas,
32.1 x 26 in.  Photo: Jay Baker.
© Clyfford Still Estate
Notes from the Editor:  With this award, Save America’s Treasures bravely acknowledged the importance of 20th century non-representational modern art. Even now, more than fifty years after Still began creating his mature works, the art world is just catching up with his artistic achievements.

But this somewhat delayed recognition of Still’s work is largely due to his own eccentricities, especially in the way he chose to slowly and strategically parcel out his legacy to the world. Two years before his death, he wrote a one-page document that would define the fate of approximately 94% of his known artwork. He wrote:

“I give and bequeath all the remaining works of art executed by me in my collection to an American city that will agree to build or assign and maintain permanent quarters exclusively for these works of art and assure their physical survival with the explicit requirement that none of these works of art will be sold, given, or exchanged but are to be retained in the place described above exclusively assigned to them in perpetuity for exhibition and study.”

Clyfford Still, Field Rocks (PH-45), 1925. Oil on canvas,
21 x 28.1 in.  Photo: Jay Baker.   © Clyfford Still Estate
Twenty years later, Denver made the bid to be that American city. After negotiations with the family, a deal was struck. While Still was usually associated with the New York scene, there’s a nice symmetry to the idea of his works returning to a city of the western prairie. Clyfford Still grew up in Spokane, Washington, and the vast prairie landscapes of his youth permanently informed his vision.

Here’s a brief (just two-and-a-half minute) yet informative video introduction to the Clyfford Still Museum.

Other Recommended Sites:  If your visit to the Clyfford Still Museum leaves you yearning for more art experiences, there’s an entrance to the Denver Art Museum less one block away (the North building’s main entrance, located on 13th Street). But don’t stop there. Other prestigious Denver art collections can be found at the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. With the arrival of the Clyfford Still Museum, Denver has truly become an art mecca.

Clyfford Still, Self-Portrait (PH-382), 1940.  Oil on canvas, 41.5 x 38.1 in.
Photo: Peter Harholdt.   © Clyfford Still Estate

Tour America's History Itinerary
Thursday’s destination:  Mayflower Mill

© 2012 Lee Price

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