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Clyfford Still

So maybe this is my week to air art world frustrations. My latest complaint: The newly unveiled Clyfford Still Museum in Denver.

An excerpt about the proposed museum from the Denver Post can be read on Slow Painting. The building concept sounds soulful, more of an invitation to solitude than its brassy, sassy neighbor, the Denver Art Museum, with its angular new Daniel Liebeskind addition.

So yes to a museum that aspires to create a space for “reflection, refuge and intimacy.” But devoted exclusively to the work of Clyfford Still?

Still spent most of his life bucking up against the commercial art mainstream. I’m all for transgressives, but his brand of rebellion had a particular aura of self aggrandizement about it. He was curmudgeonly, demanding that his work be displayed in its own gallery space, under his explicit control.

Here’s an excerpt from an excellent overview on Clyfford Still by Sandy Donabed on Ragged Cloth Cafe:

Still wanted his paintings to be under his own personal control, and did not like them separated from one another or exhibited with other artists’ work. He felt that his paintings could only be understood as part of a whole, with the whole being the evolution of his entire life’s work. This obsession with maintaining absolute control resulted in his rejection of offers to buy his paintings, refusing awards and honors, and declining invitations to exhibit both in individual and group shows. In so doing, with contempt, he rejected the politics of the New York art scene, which for the first time in history had become the international center of the art world.

In his words: “I hold it imperative to evolve an instrument of thought which will aid in cutting through all cultural opiates, past and present, so that a direct, immediate, and truly free vision can be achieved. . .and I affirm my profound concern to achieve a purpose beyond vanity, ambition, or remembrance.”

Beyond vanity, ambition, or remembrance? I don’t think so. I would prefer a contemplative, solitude-encouraging museum as this one aspires to be that housed a variety of transcendent-inducing works by Still AND some of his contemporaries like Rothko, Diebenkorn, Newman, Mitchell, Marden.

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