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clyfford still | museum
A family stands in a gallery with large, abstract paintings
Photo by Brien Hollowell

Awful Bigness

FEB 17–SEP 10, 2023

The Clyfford Still Museum is situated in Denver, Colorado, at the foot of the Rockies at an elevation that makes those unused to this altitude gasp. When we ascend to the top of a ridge and look out at the vast expanse, we might enjoy a sense of achievement at scaling that terrain or revel at the expanse that spreads before us, but we may also experience the smallness of our own individual existence. This experience might be tinged with a fear of tumbling, being engulfed, or disappearing in the face of such grandeur. Generations of Western artists and intellectuals, especially beginning in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, have described this feeling as the experience of the sublime.

Clyfford Still spent his childhood and adolescence in the West and saw how the boundless plains could offer generous bounty in times of plenty or pitilessly starve in dust and wind. In an interview, he referred to that experience as one that taught him to respect the “awful bigness of the land, the men and the machines.” In subsequent years, he worked on an enormous scale, and each time, he had to confront the awful bigness of the vast expanse of blank canvas.

Organized by the Museum’s curator of collections, Bailey Placzek, in collaboration with CSM’s director, Joyce Tsai, Awful Bigness fills the Museum’s largest, skylit galleries and celebrates Still’s biggest, most ambitious works. This installation follows a chronological display of Still’s works in CSM’s first four rooms, which overviews Still’s groundbreaking path to abstraction.

Abstract painting with brown and tan paint with paint moving upwards
Clyfford Still, PH-685, 1969. Oil on canvas, 113 3/8 x 158 5/8 in. Clyfford Still Museum, Denver, CO. © City and County of Denver / ARS, NY

Digital Guide + Audio Content

Enjoy more ways to connect to the collection and our Museum with the new Clyfford Still Museum mobile guide, available on the free arts and culture app Bloomberg Connects, available via Google Play or the App Store. Scan the QR code to download Bloomberg Connects and find CSM’s digital guide. Use the guide while you explore Awful Bigness and hear a variety of perspectives on the exhibition’s themes. Audio guide speakers include Dr. Danielle Ignace, assistant professor in the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver; Dr. Rob Landis of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office at NASA headquarters in Washington D.C.; Susannah Drake, architect, landscape architect, and CSM’s president of the board of directors; and a student from Denver School of the Arts.

Bloomberg QR code

A person holds up their phone and scans a QR code
Clyfford Still Museum digital guide available on the Bloomberg Connects app. Photo by Brien Hollowell

Awful Bigness Exhibition Tour

Join CSM director Joyce Tsai and curator of collections Bailey Placzek in a look through Awful Bigness, with additional insight from Susannah Drake (architect and CSM board president), Dr. Danielle Ignace (Ecophysiologist and Asst. Professor of Indigenous Natural Sciences at the University of British Columbia), and Aspen (Denver School of the Arts student).

Awful Bigness Programs + Events

Enjoy a variety of programs for all ages during this BIG exhibition.

Explore Upcoming Programs

Collection Highlights

Collection Highlights were on view in galleries 1–4 and Awful Bigness began in Gallery 5.