Art Review

Corduroy building: Construction of the Clyfford Still Museum begins

After years of anticipation, construction of a new Clyfford Still Museum at the corner of West 13th Avenue and Bannock Street is finally moving forward. Last week, Dean Sobel, the CSM's founding director, and Brad Cloepfil, the head of Allied Works Architecture, unveiled the final design for the museum, which will house a collection of 2,400 paintings and other works by the renowned abstract expressionist.

The crowd assembled in the Sharp Auditorium of the Denver Art Museum's Hamilton Building was heavy with local architects, including Steve Chucovich. This made me wonder what a building conceived by him would have looked like. But Chucovich wasn't picked for the job. In fact, no Denver architects were even considered.

"Unlike many architectural projects in which the most significant features come late in the construction, like the titanium on the Hamilton Building, our building will start to reveal itself very, very soon," Sobel said. "In August, the contractors will start building forty-foot vertical forms that will be the basis for our concrete walls. And the concrete actually is not only the structure of our building, that which holds it up, but it's also the form-giver, that which determines the spaces of our two stories, and it's our skin."

That skin has a distinctive feature: vertical ridges made by allowing the liquid concrete to seep through the forms. When set, this will result in a corduroy-like surface. These ridges will catch the light, casting shadows on themselves. Cloepfil said the light is an important aspect in his design and that skylights will allow the sun to shine inside, though it will be diffused and filtered. Still's daughter, Sandra Still Campbell, spoke from the audience, recalling that her father believed that "light makes the paintings live."

Cloepfil claimed that his design emerged from his consideration of Denver, of the site, of the building's notable neighbors and of Still's work. However, since the building is signature Cloepfil, none of these things are remotely true. But the building is stunning anyway. And it promises to be a handsome neo-modernist creation that will sit quietly at the southwest edge of the greater Civic Center area, welcoming Still fans from all over the world.

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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