Art Review

Construction is under way on the Clyfford Still Museum

In 2005, the City of Denver acquired more than 800 paintings and 1,500 works on paper from the estate of Clyfford Still (pictured) in exchange for the promise that a museum would be built dedicated to him. Construction of the Clyfford Still Museum is now under way just west of the Denver Art Museum's Hamilton Building.

When the artist died, there were a number of stipulations in his will; among these was that the works would never be sold. Still did allow his wife, Patricia Still, to select some 400 works that she would retain, however. When Patricia died, she left nearly all of them to the nascent museum as well, but without the stipulation.

So let's summarize. Still held back the preponderance of his oeuvre to stock an imagined future museum in his honor, insisting that the pieces in the collection never be gotten rid of. Then a few hundred more came in without that proviso.

Hmm. Guess what's going to happen?

The powers-that-be at the CSM are currently trying to convince a judge in Maryland to release four paintings from Patricia's estate before it's settled in order to sell them. The trustees of that estate have been informed and have no problem with it. The money generated from the sale could then be used by the CSM in any way it sees fit -- for instance, for operations, upkeep or an endowment. Once — or, rather, if — Patricia's pieces are accessioned by the CSM, funds generated by sales could only be used to purchase other works of art.

CSM director Dean Sobel, who's been completely transparent in this matter, hopes that the paintings -- three from the '40s and one from the '70s -- will be purchased together by a museum. He would not say how much they're worth, but I'm sure it's in the range of tens of millions of dollars.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia