clyfford still | museum
Clyfford Still Museum construction 2010
Clyfford Still Museum construction 2010

Clyfford Still Museum to Open in Denver November 2011

Designed by Allied Works Architecture, New Museum to House 94% of Still’s Creative Output and Provide Unprecedented Opportunity for New Scholarship and Public Appreciation of One of America’s Greatest Painters

Inaugural Exhibition to Shed New Light on Still’s Broad Influence and Impact, With Never-Before-Seen Paintings, Sculptures, Drawings, and Prints

Denver, CO, May 3, 2011 – The Clyfford Still Museum announced today that it will open its doors on November 18, 2011. The museum, which will house 94% of the artist’s total creative output, the majority of which has never been on display, will reintroduce the public to the life and work of Clyfford Still, one of America’s most significant yet least understood artists. No previous exhibitions of the artist’s work have been able to present the full trajectory of Still’s 60-year career, 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 will provide 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 will provide visitors with an intimate environment to experience the art of Clyfford Still. The museum’s inaugural exhibition will feature 100 works drawn from the Still collection, exploring both his early arrival at complete abstraction as well as the ongoing significance of figuration on his later work. The exhibition will include a number of never-before-displayed paintings, works on paper, and objects from Still’s personal archives, as well as the only three Still sculptures 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 this museum will provide unprecedented insight into the life and work of Clyfford Still, and will redefine 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, will provide an overview of the artist’s primary imagery and establish 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 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 now 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 in Denver is an incredible collection for the city and our state.”

Inaugural Exhibition

The museum’s inaugural exhibition will present a comprehensive survey of Still’s artistic career from 1925 through the late 1970s, documenting the development of his primary imagery and his early arrival at what would be considered Abstract Expressionism. The exhibition is the first to explore Still’s early figurative work created before World War II, which points to the significance of figuration throughout the artist’s career, even in his most outwardly abstract images. The exhibition will also consider 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.

Installed chronologically 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 will include 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 will show Still’s dramatic expansion of scale, his rarely displayed works on paper from all periods of 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 will include:

  • 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 1936 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.

Building Design

Designed by Brad Cloepfil and Allied Works Architecture, the Clyfford Still Museum will be a dense, cantilevered two-story building of richly worked concrete. Featuring nine light-filled galleries on its second level, as well as a library, educational and archival resources, a conservation studio, and collection storage on its first floor, the 28,500-square-foot museum will create a compelling environment in which  to view and appreciate Still’s work and learn about his life and impact.

“This new building for the work of the artist Clyfford Still provides an intensely intimate and introspective relationship with his art,” said architect Brad Cloepfil. “The building is conceived as a nearly geologic experience, one that firmly holds both visitor and art in spaces amplified by natural light. The sequence from city, to park, to building creates a ceremony of repose that prepares the visitor for a personal and very physical relationship with this incredibly important body of drawings and paintings— whose power and presence are revealed in natural light for the first time.”

One first encounters the museum through a grove of trees and landscaped forecourt, which provides a place of contemplation, decompression, and transition from the museum’s surrounding urban context. Through the trees, the structure of the building is visible, consisting of cast-in-place architectural concrete walls with a variety of surface relief and texture. The façade features thin, vertical lines of concrete that project from the building’s surface in a fractured, organic, and random pattern, creating a rich surface that changes in the intense Denver sunlight and forms varied shadows across the building.

The entry is revealed beneath the canopy of trees, and visitors are welcomed into the museum by a low, long reception lobby. Visitors rise from the lobby and reception area toward the natural light falling from the galleries on the second floor. The museum’s second level features nine light-filled galleries, totaling approximately 10,000 square feet. Each gallery is distinctly defined and proportioned to respond to specific aspects and needs of the collection and helps trace the distinct phases of Still’s career in chronological sequence. Gallery heights vary from 12 to 17 feet to accommodate changes in scale and media and to establish an intimacy with the art. Two outdoor terraces and an education gallery offer visitors a moment of reflection and investigation during the gallery sequence, and allow them to re-orient themselves with the surrounding and distant landscape. Moving between galleries, visitors are provided glimpses into the collection storage and interpretive galleries on the first level.

The visitor’s experience of the collection will be enlivened by natural light that enters the galleries through a series of skylights over a cast-in-place, perforated concrete ceiling. The geometry of openings in the ceiling creates an even field of soft and changing daylight in the galleries. Diffusing glass, motorized shades, and electric light give curatorial flexibility to the gallery spaces, helping to support different gallery configurations and the museum’s rotating exhibition program.

Upon completing the primary gallery sequence, visitors may descend back to the museum’s first level to explore the painting storage, archive, and exhibition spaces viewable from above. An open double-high corridor connects these facilities and will serve as an exhibition hall allowing visitors to further their learning of the history and life of Clyfford Still. A “timeline” section of the corridor places the artist’s work in context with historic events and other artistic movements, and an “archive” hallway presents the everyday artifacts of the artist’s life and information about his painting technique and media. From this corridor, visitors will also be able view the collection storage rooms, and assess the number of paintings produced during the artist’s prolific career. A visible conservation lab and a research center offer visitors additional resources for furthering their knowledge of Still’s career. This open corridor speaks to the institution’s founding principle of unveiling this once-private and very personal collection to the public, as it invites a gradual immersion in the works of Still.

About Allied Works

Allied Works Architecture is a 40-person practice founded and led by Brad Cloepfil from offices in Portland, Oregon, and New York City. Allied Works Architecture works to discover and distill the elemental principles that drive each building project. It is this essence, revealed in the architecture, which resonates within a culture, creating new experience and understanding which endures through time. Current commissions include the National Music Centre of Canada; a masterplan and new studio building for the Pacific Northwest College of Art’s MFA program; a private residence with a major installation by artist Doug Aitken in Stanfordville, New York; the design of East River Walk in New York City, and the Vancouver Community Connector, a major civic space and structure, in Vancouver, Washington. In 2010 Allied Works was one of five international finalists to design a new entrance and exhibition pavilion for the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec. Currently, Allied Works is a finalist for two major commissions: to create a museum and arts district in Lausanne, Switzerland and to design an arts preserve in Wisconsin. Some of the firm’s notable works include the expansion of the University of Michigan Museum of Art in Ann Arbor; the re-design of 2 Columbus Circle for the Museum of Arts and Design; the Dutchess County Residence Guest House; the expansion of the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in the Dallas Arts District; a creative workspace for Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, California; the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis; and Wieden + Kennedy Agency’s world headquarters in Portland.

About The Clyfford Still Museum

The Clyfford Still Museum was founded to promote public and scholarly understanding of the late artist’s work and legacy, through the presentation and preservation of the Clyfford Still and Patricia Still estates, donated to the City of Denver in 2004 and 2005 respectively, and totaling approximately 2,400 artworks. Considered one of the most important painters of the twentieth century, Still (1904 – 1980) was among the first generation of Abstract Expressionist artists who developed a new, powerful approach to painting in the years immediately following World War II. The Stills’ estates—now understood to contain 94 percent of the artist’s total output—as well as his extensive archive, have been sealed off from the public since 1980.

The Clyfford Still Museum broke ground in December 2009 and will open to the public in November 2011 in its new building, designed by Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture and located in Denver, Colorado. The new museum will be in the heart of the city’s Civic Center Cultural Complex, near the Denver Art Museum and its new Daniel Libeskind-designed building, the Denver Public Library designed by Michael Graves, and the new Colorado History Museum designed by David Tryba. For more information about the Clyfford Still Museum, please visit www.clyffordstillmuseum.org.

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