The Clyfford Still Museum balances conflicting obligations as a rule, and it’s a tricky bit of museum- making.
On one side, it must work hard to enhance its namesake artist’s reputation and establish him, in the public eye, as the 20th century master that academics and critics know him to be. That means staging exciting exhibitions that draw people into its Denver galleries for repeated visits, so they get to know and understand the late, abstract expressionist painter’s unique and challenging way of seeing the world.
But that’s not so easy, even though the Still’s curators have had historic, world-class art objects to dangle as bait for repeat customers.
That’s because the museum’s other job is to respect the rules that the notoriously cranky artist left behind on how his work can be exhibited — rules that have been interpreted strictly into the institution’s charter. The stingiest of all Still’s demands: The museum may not hang works by any other painters on its walls.
So, how does a curator put Still in the context of other artists and movements when it can’t show the other artists’ work? Year after year? There’s always a threat that the Still Museum will get repetitive or fail at its primary mission or, worse of all, become boring.
But what if visitors could see the paintings of those other artists, even if they were not there? If the museum could somehow make the work of Still’s peers, his influencers and followers visible without actually bringing them into the museum?
Would that be breaking the rules, or would it be a clever solution around them?