As a genre-defining artist, Clyfford Still is uniquely a bit of an enigma. The painter, widely credited as a major definitive force in the Abstract Expressionist movement, only released six percent of his life's work. What happened to the other 94 percent? The 2,400 pieces have been in storage since Still passed in 1980, resting on a clause in his will sealing them off from both public and scholarly view until "permanent quarters" could be established in an American city.
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Clyfford's wife Patricia selected Denver as that city in 2004, bequeathing her own personal collection to the future museum in 2005. This Friday, six years later, Denver will open the doors on a $29 million museum exclusively exhibiting Clyfford Still. As per Still's request, the museum has no gift shop, restaurant, or auditorium.
How do you approach a collection of infamous art no one has seen before, and determine what makes it into the inaugural show? "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, provides an overview of the artist's primary imagery and establishes Still as one of the first of his American peers to realize the concept of a monumental, pure abstraction," said Dean Sobel, Director and Curator of the museum, in a press release.
And the paintings? Brett Baker describes in a HuffPost blog earlier this year:
The humanity in Still's paintings is elemental, not descriptive. The hard-working figures of his early paintings were consumed by the raw, celebratory, human act of creation. These paintings are meant to be felt as much as seen...
Or, in Clyfford Still's own words: "These are not paintings in the usual sense, they are life and death merging in a fearful union."
The building is itself a work of art; true to Still's artistic vision, but not to the extent of caricature. Made of cast-in-place architectural concrete, a press release touts the structure's surface pattern designed to capture and diffuse natural light within (see photos in slideshow below).
A grand opening will be held this Friday, November 18th, in Denver, with free admission 10:30 a.m. to noon. View select works from the inaugural exhibition, as well as images of the building itself, in a slideshow below.