Thursday, February 12, 2009

The artist as ego.

Artist Clifford Still is all over the art-world news these days even though he’s dead. Why? Well Clifford’s attitude toward his art is unique. Still kept almost all of the hundreds of paintings he created, about 95 percent were in his estate when he died in 1980. Stranger still, he allowed almost no one to see these works—he ordered them to be sealed off from the public and from scholars after his death.

Still had a big ego, even by artist standards. He despised galleries (which he called “sordid gift shoppes”) And he wasn’t much kinder to critics, curators, and museums. I don’t even think he liked collectors. I’m not sure he’d be happy about me looking at his paintings. He even refused to give his paintings names because it might encourage deplorable interpretations.

Clifford Still’s will was one sentence: “I give and bequeath all the remaining works of art executed by me in my collection to an American city that will agree to build or assign and maintain permanent quarters exclusively for these works of art and assure their physical survival with the explicit requirement that none of these works of art will be sold, given, or exchanged but are to be retained in the place described above exclusively assigned to them in perpetuity for exhibition and study.”


Still’s heirs have had a hard time finding a city to undertake such a demanding requirement. Caring and maintaining for so many paintings is an expensive proposition. But believe it or not, as part of the city’s amazing race to create a serious art presence, Denver, Colorado will be the new home of the Clifford Still Museum, which is currently under construction.


Why am I boring you with all this information? Because one of the few places you can see a significant group of Still’s work is at SFMOMA where an entire gallery is dedicated to the artist, probably because the artist demanded that no other work could be shown in the same space. Or maybe the curators are just afraid that if they included other artists in the gallery, Still would wake from the dead and rip their hearts out. Someday I want to be a crazy artist.

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