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The Clyfford Still Museum To display the work of Clyfford Still, Allied Works Architecture has built a gallery that embodies the forthright spirit of the late artist’s paintings
Clyfford Still, the abstract expressionist painter, was a wonderful artist and a not-so-terrific person. Like his canvases, his temper was violently craggy. Sending a rubber diaper to the author of a negative review was Still at his most charming. Less endearing was a gloating call made to a common friend on the morning of Mark Rothko’s suicide. His legendary whims infuriated collectors and curators. As a final act of hubris, he reserved his vast personal collection for the city that would build a museum exclusively for his work.
A few months ago, this unlikely building opened in Denver, a city to which Still had no connection. Designed by Brad Cloepfil, Allied Works Architecture’s founding principal, it is a mean looking box, a rectangular concrete bunker that has all the raw force of Still’s paintings. “We wanted the building to be visceral and of the earth,” says Cloepfil. “We strove for almost a geologic quality.”
That exterior is animated by a corduroy pattern – think of Paul Rudolph’s Yale Art and Architecture Building – created by allowing concrete to seep out randomly through the formwork construction system. If not a rebuke, it is certainly a dramatic counterpoint to Daniel Libeskind’s angular Denver Art Museum extension next door.
Within, the ground floor is dedicated to reception, administration, conservation, and open storage space for the more than 2,000 works Still left the museum. Paintings on rotating display are found above, in galleries linked via a series of visual allées that orient visitors and allow them to sense the scope of Still’s achievement. This entire space is illuminated from above, with a light filtering down through a remarkable cast-concrete screen of perforated cells that hovers some 14ft above the floor, so as not to visually distract from the paintings themselves.
The building is especially notable for what is absent. There is neither a cafe nor a gift shop. This is precisely how Still wanted it: no bullshit, just his work.
“You live in fear of his ghost, there’s no question about that,” says Cloepfil. The rest of us need not worry, and can simply be thankful he has given Still’s paintings the building they deserve.
words: Mark Lamster
Right The Still gallery sits next to the Denver Art Museum