The Clyfford Still Museum
The past decade has seen Denver’s art world status rise considerably, with the addition of the Daniel Libeskind-designed Hamilton Building at the Denver Art Museum, a burgeoning gallery scene and the opening of the cutting-edge Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. But the city isn’t resting on its laurels – not by a long shot. Open to the public since 2011, The Clyfford Still Museum is yet another jewel in the Mile High City’s already glittering crown.
One of the Foremost American Painters of the 20th Century
Who was Clyfford Still and why is his work getting the royal treatment in Denver? Born in 1904, Still was a leading figure in the development of Abstract Expressionism, a post-World War II artistic movement that many consider to be the United States’ greatest contribution to world art. His like-minded peers included Jackson Pollock, William de Kooning and Mark Rothko – all rule-breaking artists who were interested in abstract forms, monumental scale and intensely expressive brushwork. Still’s bold, angular paintings juxtapose colors and shapes in eye-opening and highly emotional ways – his work is challenging, but it is sure to strike a singular chord in the viewer.
“These are not paintings in the usual sense,” Still claimed. “They are life and death merging in a fearful union.” Unlike so many renowned artists, Still’s genius was recognized during his own lifetime; in 1979, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art organized a massive survey of Still’s art, the largest presentation afforded by this museum to the work of a living artist. The New York Times called him “one of the foremost American painters of the century.”
A Bold and Iconoclastic Building
Located in the area adjacent to the Denver Art Museum, The Clyfford Still Museum's collection includes almost 2,400 of Still’s paintings, drawings and prints – roughly 94 percent of this influential artist’s total output. The museum will also contain the artist’s archives, including personal letters, photographs, journals and sketchbooks. Virtually all of this material has been sealed off from public and scholarly view since 1980.
Why had so much of this great artist’s work been out of the public eye for so long? Notoriously protective of his art and the ways in which it was shown, Still specified in his last will and testament that all the art remaining in his estate would be given to an American city that would present and preserve these works under one roof. In 2004, almost 25 years after the artist’s death, the City of Denver was selected to receive the enormous Still Collection.
In late 2006, Allied Works Architecture, led by Brad Cloepfil, was selected to create the museum’s look and feel. The resulting design is bold and iconoclastic – a perfect fit for an artist like Still. The building’s dense, cantilevered, two-story structure, will be unified through the use of a single building material—a highly textured and resurfaced concrete, designed to modify light on both the exterior and interior of the museum. The 31,500-square-foot museum receives copious amounts of daylight, which is filtered into the museum through a clerestory on the second floor. The textured concrete walls diffuse, refract and capture natural light in the museum galleries. Visitors approach the museum through a landscaped forecourt, which provides a transition from the city to the experience of viewing the phenomenal art inside.