Art Review

Scheduled to open November 18, the Clyfford Still Museum is functional to the nth degree

The Clyfford Still Museum, which is being built at the corner of West 13th Avenue and Bannock Street, has begun to take shape, but there is still a staggering amount of work left to do before the construction company turns the building over to the museum in September (it's scheduled to open to the public on November 18).

Museum director Dean Sobel recently gave me a tour, and I found the plan to be functional to the nth degree, making it the polar opposite of the Denver Art Museum's Hamilton building next door. The design, by Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture, is a handsome neo-modernist mix of Brutalism and late International style. Details like the vertical stripes on the walls inside and out are beautiful. The formal reference is to a cube, but the way the second floor cantilevers over the notched-in wall at the entrance violates that.

On the first floor, there's a nice lobby with a grand staircase. The concrete ceiling is notable for its diagonal pattern of wood impressions lining up with the stripes on the walls. There are interesting ceilings of various types throughout — the Brasilia-style honeycomb grills are out of this world — and they are either very low or very high, depending on the rooms they're in. Most of the rest of the first floor is dedicated to less public activities, including offices, storage, the archive room and a conference room. After going back and forth for a while, Sobel decided not to hang any Stills on this floor, choosing instead to put them all in nine different spaces on the second floor. For the initial presentation, Sobel is going to lay out Still's career geographically, from his early years in Canada to the end of his life in Maryland, with each place given its own gallery.

Sobel had run the Aspen Art Museum (which broke ground on its own new building last week) before becoming the CSM's founding director, so he was accustomed to putting together exhibits. "I used to put on five shows a year," Sobel says, "and this time it has taken me five years just to put on one."

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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