“One Man, One Life, One Place”
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On the a side of parking garage near Denver’s Civic Center Cultural Complex hangs a banner that says, “[l]egendary and unknown aren’t often used to describe the same artist.” That “legendary and unknown” artist is Clyfford Still. It is understandable that most of us are unfamiliar with him, and it is even more understandable that most of us have never seen his art.
After his death in 1980 at the age of 75, Still’s work, which includes nearly 2400 separate pieces, remained out of public view for nearly thirty years. That, despite Still being one of the most significant contributors, along with artists such as Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko, to the post-war art movement known as abstract expressionism.
His will required that his entire estate be donated to a U.S. city that would display his work in a museum devoted solely to his art. In 2004, his widow, Patricia Still, chose Denver as that city. In addition, she left her entire estate that included many of her late husband’s paintings to the city of Denver.
The building, opened to the public in November 2011, is made from elegantly worked concrete. Hanging on the walls of the 28,500 square-foot building are over 100 of Still’s pieces. Nine different galleries with dissimilar ceiling heights and different room proportions are designed to most effectively present Still’s paintings.
Fortunately, Still sold only 150 of his paintings during his lifetime, so the bulk, 94 percent, of his production is either on display or stored in the museum’s archives. Not only will visitors have the privilege of seeing Still’s powerful paintings, scholars, critics, and restorers will be able to study, interpret, and preserve Still’s artistic achievements and legacy.
This is a must-see museum for anyone even remotely interested in art. Seldom does a museum visitor have the opportunity to see so much work done by someone who was a pioneer in his or her respective art style. Jackson Pollack, the quintessential abstract expressionist, once said, “Still makes the rest of us look academic.”
Those are convincing words spoken by someone who is legendary in the art world and whose paintings have sold for as much as 140 million dollars. If you live in or are visiting Denver, take a few hours and see this incredible museum, and learn more about this “legendary and unknown” artist.