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Portrait of Clyfford Still with PH-847 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 1974.
Unknown photographer. Courtesy the Clyfford Still Museum Archives.

Coming in 2015: Dilemmas and Masterworks


January 23–May 3, 2015

The Clyfford Still Museum’s fourth year begins with an intriguing four-painting exhibition of the artist who once proclaimed, “I do not intend to oversimplify—in fact, I revel in the extra-complex.” In the midst of masterworks newly installed throughout the Museum’s galleries, Up/Down? presents dilemmas that the world’s most intact public collection of a major American artist may never be able to solve. All of the exhibition’s featured works have yet to be displayed on the Museum’s walls. They include a large painting from Still’s famed 1979 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a rare unsigned, previously undocumented work unrolled by the Museum earlier this year.

Despite Clyfford and Patricia Still’s meticulous cataloguing and photographic documentation of Still’s entire output, there are a few paintings that maintain an air of mystery. Up/Down? explores the issue of orientation in Still’s artwork through the examination of paintings with particularly ambiguous backstories. The exhibition also incorporates key materials from the Clyfford Still Museum Archives that have been invaluable to the Museum’s research on the featured works, illustrating the enigmatic nature of each painting with intimate details.

Up/Down? presents two unsigned paintings and their defiant backgrounds; a recently stretched canvas, PH-896 of 1973, signed by Clyfford Still in opposing corners and opposite orientations; and PH-1134 of 1956, a painting that suggests another work by Still may have been hanging upside down publicly for decades. The unsigned works, PH-244 of 1953 and PHX-27—a painting undocumented prior to this year—have nearly identical forms and composition, and vary only slightly in size. Both resemble PH-847 (1953-No. 2), a well-known painting from outside Denver’s collection that was prominently hung, with the artist’s knowledge, in two different orientations.

L to R: PH-847, 1953. Onnasch collection, photo by Alex Delfanne; Installation photo of PH-847 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 1974

Up/Down? is curated by Bailey Harberg Placzek, assistant curator and collections manager. The small gallery footprint of Up/Down? allows room for the Museum’s first installation since its opening year in which the majority of the galleries are dedicated to Still’s masterworks. Still’s last known painting, PH-1098, dated August 1, 1979, will be exhibited for the first time. Many other featured paintings have not been shown since the Museum’s inaugural exhibitions of 2011 and 2012.

The exhibition’s web page at clyffordstillmuseum.devser.net/up-down and the Museum’s facebook page, facebook.com/clyffordstillmuseum, will host an online poll during the exhibition through which individuals can review evidence and vote on their preferred orientation for PH-244 and PHX-27. Results of the poll will be published following the exhibition’s closing.

Curator’s Tour

Saturday, February 7, 2015, 1 p.m.
Free with Museum admission; no reservations required
Join Assistant Curator and Collections Manager Bailey Harberg for a closer look at Up/Down? and the art historical dilemmas presented by the works on view.

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