At the time of his mammoth 1979 retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Clyfford Still provocatively declared, “My work is not influenced by anybody.” While many observers have regarded this view as merely typical of the artist’s notoriously unyielding singularity, in hindsight Still’s words ring true at a deeper level. The concept of “influence” suggests external forces acting upon a passive mind. Still’s vision, however, was intensely active. His deep knowledge of world art history enabled him to “take and break” a wealth of images and ideas ranging from the distant to the recent past. Still & Art illustrates how he channeled these points of reference into his own intensely personal style.
Occupying all nine galleries of the Museum, the exhibition encompasses more than 80 Still paintings, works on paper, photographs, and sculptures. It breaks new ground for the Museum by also including a wealth of images of other artists’ work—both in traditional printed reproductions, and by way of a handheld device that presents the Museum’s first augmented-reality experience—in striking juxtaposition with Still’s. Still & Art begins with Still’s acknowledgment of Old Masters he admired (among them Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, J.M.W. Turner, and Vincent van Gogh); progresses to his interrogation of near-contemporaries such as Max Ernst and Pablo Picasso; and concludes with epic canvases, pastels, and photographs that reveal the artist meditating on his own past production as well as the spirit of color-field painting, minimalism, and comparable avant-garde movements of the 1960s and ’70s.
In sum, Still & Art chronicles the visual acumen at the heart of Still’s long creative trajectory. Still’s attitude toward others’ work evokes the literary critic Harold Bloom’s notion of “the anxiety of influence”: that strong creators necessarily engage in a fruitful dialogue of exploration and resistance towards their equally strong predecessors. Such an approach to what may at first appear to be straightforward influences thus leads to high originality. Still & Art tells the story of this unfolding visual drama.
This exhibition is generously supported in part by Daniel Benel and Lena Fishman. Additional support is provided by U.S. Bank and the citizens who support the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD). The augmented reality experience is made possible through a partnership with Google, the software developer GuidiGO, and media company RYOT.