The carefully planned, designed, and constructed Clyfford Still Museum is a study in contemporary design. The beautiful, elegant, yet stark building is well crafted for showcasing art and for environmental sustainability. The second floor is primarily lit by shaded natural light. The space is very clean, with textured, gray concrete walls and ceilings. The wooden floors are stained gray to match. There are walls made of drywall painted a pale dove gray. Everything is a bland but aesthetic canvas for the exhibition. The main level has low ceilings and large, triple paned, bullet proof glass windows. The archives are viewable from the street entrance. The architect for the museum was Allied Works: a firm based in Portland and New York with expertise in new museum design and construction. The lobby was carefully constructed with the viewer experience in mind. There is a canopy of trees lining the entrance and the lobby is specifically compressed to help the viewer’s eyes adjust for the pending subtleties of light necessary for observing art. The architect wanted to create viewing space based on how the artist would have been viewing his work during the creation process.
There is a small exhibition and education hall on the main floor showcasing personal items and artifacts once belonging to Clyfford Still. The majority of the massive art collection is yet catalogued and stored in the archives. The collection includes 2400 works consisting of 825 paintings, 1600 drawings, and 3 sculptures. What is shown is housed on the second floor. Clyfford Still stipulated in his will that only his original art could be shown in the museum. His will also disallowed a café and auditorium within the dedicated space. The gallery space is comprised of 12,000 square feet of fixed and dedicated space. The exhibition space on the second floor is crafted and grouped to showcase the Still chronology and the rationality of his growth. His early, smaller, more traditional art is hung grouped together, followed by each era of growth in abstraction and size. The final galleries showcase his enormous works of abstract expressionism created toward the end of his life. The maze of galleries leads us from Realism, to Post Impressionism and finally into Abstract Expressionism. Without becoming a biography on Still, the exhibition gave details of his journey through art. Clyfford Still moved from painting landscapes to human figures when he studied art in Washington. By the mid 1930’s the influences of Cubism and other Euro-Modern influences had become prominent themes. By the 1940’s Abstraction had taken over and by 1946 Still moved into large format, Abstract Expressionism where he remained. Sobel pointed out painting 1944-N-No. 1 (PH-235) as a marker in Clyfford’s career. He’d not quite found himself yet but had realized that it was enough to let the paint and canvas tell the story without further subjects involvement. By 1946 however, Still had arrived with 1946-H-No.3 (PH-945) and 1946-No.2 (PH-598). He had found his voice.
This amazing museum is traditionally funded by grants, donors, private and public sources, ticket sales, and other sales. Build for educational purposes, the Still museum is designed for lecture/observation experiences. Dean Sobel, the Founding Director and a donor, was our guide. His passion for the building and the collection permeated the museum. He is the foremost expert on Still and an early advocate for the museum coming to Denver. Sobel explained that the city sold 4 paintings, raising $14 million, to fund the project. This endowment is invested and the interest is siphoned off to stipend necessary costs. Two of the works are on display in Palm Beach and the other two are privately held. Denver was selected in 2004. Ground was broken on the new construction in December 2009 and the building took 18 months to build. The Still Estate kept the collection until Sobel received and approved the certificate of occupancy on the new structure in on October 11, 2011. The museum staff then scrambled to transport and curate the collection before its November 18, 2011 opening.