* J.S. Bach: Cello Suites (ter Linden) (selections) (Brilliant Classics 2CD)
* Bill Evans Trio: The Complete Village Vanguard Sessions 1961 (Riverside 3CD)
* Bobby Hutcherson: Head On (Blue Note CD)
* John Abercrombie: The Third Quartet (ECM CD)†/‡
* John Abercrombie Quartet: Wait Till You See Her (ECM CD)
* Terje Rypdal: Odyssey: In Studio & In Concert (ECM 3CD)
* Mary Halvorson Trio: Dragon’s Head (Firehouse 12 CD)
* Mary Halvorson Quintet: Saturn Sings (Firehouse 12 CD)
* Grateful Dead: World Music Theatre, Tinley Park, IL 7-21-90 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: World Music Theatre, Tinley Park, IL 7-22-90 (selections) (SBD 3CDR)
* Camel: Moonmadness (Decca/EMI CD)
* Camel: Rain Dances (Decca/EMI CD)
* Camel: Breathless (Arista LP)
* Sonic Youth: Smart Bar, Chicago 1985 (Goofin’ CD)
* Bad Brains: Into The Future (Megaforce LP)
* Opeth: Blackwater Park (Music For Nations/Sony CD/DVD)†
* Baroness: Yellow & Green (Relapse 2CD)†(‡)
* Grails: Burning Off Impurities (Temporary Residence 2LP)
* Grails: Deep Politics (Temporary Residence CD/2LP)(†)
* The Black Keys: Brothers (Nonesuch CD)†/‡
Short list this week.
Actually, we were in Colorado visiting Lizzy's family – folks I haven’t seen in many, many years (or in the case of my three-year-old nephew, Tobin, ever). It was so great to (re)connect with these lovely people! Being the art mavens we are, we also insisted on an excursion into downtown Denver to see the “Becoming Van Gogh” exhibit at the Denver Art Museum, which was ridiculously crowded but totally worth it. But what really blew us away was the Clyfford Still Museum next door, which was, not surprisingly, mostly devoid of visitors.
Still is obviously nowhere near as well-known as Willem De Kooning, Jackson Pollack, and Mark Rothko, but he was arguably the progenitor of the entire Abstract Expressionist movement. His low profile was partly self-inflicted since he withdrew from the commercial gallery scene at the height of his fame in the early 1950s in order to make his art in solitude. He left New York City in 1960 for rural Maryland, where he lived until his death in 1980. He rarely sold or exhibited any of his work during this period and seemed destined to become a footnote in the annals of history.
But Still believed in his art and his one-page will contained an audacious bequest:
I give and bequeath all the remaining works of art executed by me in my collection to an American City that will agree to build or assign and maintain permanent quarters exclusively for these works of art and assure their physical survival with the explicit requirement that none of these works will be sold, given, or exchanged but are to be retained in the place described above exclusively assigned to them in perpetuity for exhibition and study (see Sobel & Anfam, Clyfford Still: The Artist’s Museum, p.17).
For almost thirty years, this collection—825 paintings and 1575 works on paper (or an astonishing 94% of the artist’s entire output)—languished in storage while negotiations with various cities and institutions failed to effectuate these simple yet stringent terms. Finally, the city of Denver (through a private foundation) committed to building the museum as part of the city’s expanding arts district. Designed by Brad Cloepfil and Allied Works Architecture, the Clyfford Still Museum broke ground in 2009 and was opened to the public on November 18, 2011.
The building is a state-of-the-art facility and the inaugural exhibit a total revelation. Early works show an innate fluency that only De Kooning could match at that age, but in an already radically American style. And by 1942, Still was making wholly abstract paintings while his contemporaries were still flirting with surrealism. But as he insisted: “The figure stands behind it all.” This may at first seem incongruous, but moving chronologically through the galleries it becomes immediately apparent as his mature work evolves seamlessly from everything that came before. I had seen some of Still’s mature work at MOMA, the Met and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, but his paintings always seemed to me forbiddingly austere compared to the exuberant Pollacks or the sensuous and contemplative Rothkos hanging nearby. I knew he was important, but didn’t really understand why. A visit to the Clyfford Still Museum makes it unmistakably clear. Still once wrote: “They are not paintings in the usual sense; they are life and death merging in a fearful union.” That may sound like modernist hyperbole but, to be sure, confronting an entire museum filled with his art is indeed a wholly unique and terrifically moving experience.
The galleries are beautifully lit with both artificial and cleverly diffused natural light and are perfectly scaled to the oftentimes monumental-sized paintings. Smaller, dimmer galleries contain a number of works on paper and three sculptures, almost none of it ever before seen. In fact, the collection is so vast it will take thirty or more years to display it all—which means we will enjoy going back again and again. If you find yourself in Denver, the Clyfford Still Museum is well worth the modest admission fee. You may not have heard of him, but you will come away convinced he was one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century. You can see more of my photographs of the museum and the rest of trip here.
It was also our birthday on the 15th. Yes, my wife and I have the same birthday. Isn't that amazing? Happy birthday to us!