As the steward of Clyfford Still's art and legacy, the Clyfford Still Museum's mission is to:
Preserve, exhibit, study, and foster engagement with its unique collections;
Generate outstanding exhibitions, scholarly research, educational and other cross-disciplinary programs that broaden the definition of a "single-artist" museum; and
Be a gathering place for the exploration of innovation and individual artistic endeavor.
The Clyfford Still Museum was founded to promote public and scholarly understanding of the late artist's work, through the presentation and preservation of the Clyfford Still and Patricia Still estates, totaling approximately 2,900 artworks donated to the City of Denver in 2004 and 2005. Considered one of the most important artists of the 20th century, Still was among the first generation of Abstract Expressionist artists who developed a new and powerful approach to painting in the years immediately following World War II. The Museum, designed by Allied Works Architecture, allows visitors the unique experience to understand the legacy of Clyfford Still, an artist whose life has been shrouded in mystery and the bulk of whose work was hidden from public view for over 30 years.
Born in North Dakota in 1904, Clyfford Still spent the first 30 years of his life in western Washington state and southern Canada. His early works, from the first half of the 1930s, are marked by an exaggerated figurative style, but by the late 1930s Still began to simplify his forms, shifting from representational painting to abstraction. Still's mature style, marked by purely abstract form and monumental scale, was achieved early in his career and years before his contemporaries, causing the artist to be widely considered as one of Abstract Expressionism's first innovators. Still's relationship with the art world was tumultuous, however, and in 1951, he ended his involvement with commercial galleries. From 1950 until his death in 1980, Still exerted enormous control over how his works were exhibited, selling very little art and frequently rejecting exhibition opportunities.
After the artist's death in 1980, the Clyfford Still estate was sealed off from public and scholarly view. Still's will stipulated that his estate be given in its entirety to an American city willing to establish a permanent quarters dedicated solely to his work, ensuring its survival for exhibition and study. In August 2004, the City of Denver, under the leadership of Mayor John Hickenlooper, was selected by Still's wife, Patricia Still, to receive the substantial Still collection. In 2005, Patricia Still also selected Denver to receive her own estate, which included select paintings by her husband as well as his complete archives.
The CSM collection, which represents nearly 95 percent of the artist's lifetime output, comprises approximately 2,885 works created by the artist from 1920 through 1980, including 825 paintings, 2,000 works on paper, archives, drawings and prints, and three sculptures. Collection highlights include Still's rarely exhibited and virtually unknown drawings and early works, recently discovered masterworks from the height of his career, and over 300 works from Still's breakthrough period as an innovator of the Abstract Expressionist movement. The collection also encompasses the artist's archives, including personal letters, photographs, journals, sketchbooks, and other documentation of Still's work. These materials provide new scholarship and interpretive opportunities and enrich museum visitor experiences with insight into Still and his creative evolution. In addition, direct correspondence between Still and other leading artists of the time reveal the esteem in which his contemporaries held him. These letters and documents remain of considerable value in the ongoing evaluation of Clyfford Still and mid-century American art.
The Museum hosts a rotating series of exhibitions, drawn from its extensive collection and designed to enhance public understanding of Still's significant role in the evolution of American art and to explore various aspects of Still's life, career, and creative output. Interdisciplinary public and education programs, including lectures, films, and gallery tours, encourage deeper reflection on Still's practice and new associations and analyses of his work. In addition, the Clyfford Still Museum frequently collaborates with its neighboring institutions including the Denver Art Museum on joint programming designed to help contextualize and complement its single-artist collection.
The Los Angeles Times calls the Museum "a marvelous model for what a single-artist museum can be." Smithsonian Magazine describes the Museum as "among the best art museum experiences anywhere." The Museum was designed by Allied Works Architecture, which received the 2013 Design Award, 2012 Honor Award, and 2012 Craftsmanship Award from regional chapters of the American Institute of Architects for the project.