Nicholas O'Brien reports on the newly-opened Clyfford Still museum in Denver.
An elegant, expensive concrete cube dedicated to the work of one artist--and he's a pale male! and a...painter!--is monumentally incorrect, so incorrect it never should have happened and almost didn't. The story of how Still's widow kept the collection together in order to realize Clyfford's dream of a museum dedicated solely to his work, in the face of peer and financial pressure to sell off individual paintings, was a staple of the art press 20 years ago. Detractors predicted that no regional museum would saddle itself with such a large, permanent, all-or-nothing commitment. Back seat drivers suggested Mrs. Still stop hoarding her husbands's paintings and let them escape to diverse collections. Worry warts fretted that Still was no Pollock, public recognition-wise, and that the passage of time would consign the uncirculated paintings to endless rolled-up storage and decay.
Possibly precedents such as the Cy Twombly museum in Houston made the "one off museum" seem less speculative.
So the story now--or at least one of them--is how one artist's vision, ego and obstinacy, famous during his lifetime, was transmitted to his heirs and institutional supporters and led to this happy ending of an intact oeuvre in a state of bunker-like enshrinement.
The same backbiters are going to say that this is business as usual, that institutions dedicated to artists who happened to belong to a particular group at a particular moment and be recognized by particular authorities are an indulgence and monument to the power of the 1 percent who rule us.
People who genuinely like Still's work, such as O'Brien, will cast aside these petty political concerns--or embrace some kind of revisionist criticism to refute them, such as saying that Still's work has a feminine aspect and he was nurturing in relations with other artists. C'mon, he was a narcissistic holy terror, you'd have to be to be so dedicated to the idea of perpetual real estate dedicated to you, you, you.
So far we haven't talked about the work at all. O'Brien describes it well so please go read his essay. A painter friend said he liked the "stoner concentration with which Still followed an edge." Some of the paintings are quite good--seen here and there--but now you will have to go to Denver to have the ultimate case made. Probably when it's all said and done the work is better served by a collection than piecemeal dispersion. Let's hope now it's not ransacked by howling philistine mobs when the .1 percent finally go to the guillotine, ha ha.
(1) Peter Plagens on the museum prior to opening and the sale of four Stills to finance it, in contravention of the artist's and his widow's wills.
(2) Whitney Kimball on the first attack on a Denver Still painting (by a random inebriated person). Also mentioned are the protests that occurred at the time of the sale of the four Stills (the sales per se weren't the issue, just huge takes by an auction house in a labor dispute with its art handlers).