Friday, November 18, 2011
Beneath the elegant and cool exterior of the new Clyfford Still Museum designed by Brad Cloepfil beats the heart of an artist of turbulent and extraordinary control. Thirty-one years after his death his complete oeuvre is present in Denver Colorado, a city he probably never visited in his life. The story about the museum is controversial and well documented elsewhere. It is the reality of the art and the museum I want to discuss.
The building is close to perfection- a simple and elegant structure in which the art takes center stage. The details, particularly the concrete walls that allow the wood forms to be expressed are lovely. Natural light enhances the artificial and benches strategically placed in front of major paintings are a welcome element.
I have seen Still's work in other museums; notably the Metropolitan & MOMA in NY and the San Francisco Art Museum. Seeing it as he wished it displayed, without other artists' work, creates an experience that brings to mind the Rothko Chapel in Houston. The installation is quite traditional, sequencing from his early student work to the final works in the 1970s. The first floor has various artifacts ( paints, a baseball glove (?) and other memorabilia which seems less than important. Last month the Denver International Film Festival offered a series of films about the Abstract Expressionists, which I think would have been a good addition to the museum. Whether that would have fit within the stringent requirements of the artist's will, which determined much of the form of the museum, I don't know. Suffice to say that though it is legally a separate museum it's location next to the Denver Art Museum, ( and the security guards inside who were clearly from the Denver Art Museum) as well as a path leading from the front door of the Still Museum to the outdoor patio of the DAM coffee shop suggest a close relationship. Still's will required no restaurant inside the museum, or more critically, that no other artist's work be shown there.
So the work will be seen, in its magnificence, and it is wonderful work, but without the sorely need context of what was going on in the period it was created. A pity, I think. Nevertheless I am exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to see such wonderful paintings in such a comfortable setting.