Clyfford Still Museum Makes Rare Loan of 9 Major Works

The move circumvents the late artist's strict rules.

There is no doubt that artist Clyfford Still ranks among the top Abstract Expressionists in history, with his bold and mesmerizing canvases having commanded upwards of $60 million at auction. But he wasn’t the easiest artist to work with, of course.

During his lifetime, Still stipulated that his paintings always be displayed in a gallery separate from other artists.

When he died, his widow sealed off most of his paintings from the public, as well as scholars and art experts. The artist specified that the works were to be bequeathed to an American city that would “retain” the works in exclusive and permanent quarters. Thirty-six years after Still’s death, the strict and specific instructions that the artist wrote into his will regarding the handling of his large oeuvre have translated into a tightly controlled sale and exhibition history.

PH-247,1951, 2/15/12, 5:56 PM, 16C, 5690x7313 (265+367), 100%, Custom, 1/20 s, R75.3, G67.2, B87.3

Clyfford Still, PH-247 (1951).
Image: Courtesy of Clyfford Still Museum. (c) City and County of Denver/ARS NY.

After years of negotiation with the Still estate, the Clyfford Still Museum opened in Denver in 2011. On its fifth anniversary, the museum has announced an unprecedented loan of nine major works to the Royal Academy of Art in London this fall.  Museum director Dean Sobel told the New York Times that Still’s will “is somewhat ambiguous and doesn’t expressly prohibit loans.”

The works will be included in the Academy’s September show on Abstract Expressionism, alongside works by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning, which runs through January 2017. From there, it will travel to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

PH-385,1949 Detail, 2/14/12, 10:13 AM, 16C, 7100x8930 (150+770), 125%, Custom, 1/30 s, R71.4, G46.0, B62.9

Clyfford Still, Detail of PH-385 (1949).
Image: Courtesy of Clyfford Still Museum. (c) City and County of Denver/ARS NY.

In addition to the loan to Europe, the museum will further mark the five year anniversary with a show opening October 14 devoted to Still’s graphic art, featuring over 200 works as well as ephemera from the museum’s archives.

The museum will also continue its Artists Select program, which launched last year with a show curated by DEVO co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh. In 2017, exhibitions curated by Mark Bradford and Julian Schnabel will go on view.

The auction track record for Still’s work remains limited, despite the artist’s popularity. To date, just 49 results are listed in the artnet Price Database. The most expensive paintings are a group that had belonged to the artist’s widow and were sold at Sotheby’s in 2011 to benefit the museum. They raked in $114 million, compared with a low estimate of $51 million; this was the year in which Still’s record tripled, to $61 million from a previous auction high of $21.3 million, set in November 2006.

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