Co.Design

First Look: Butch And Beautiful, The Clyfford Still Museum Nears Opening

A museum dedicated to the art work of abstract-expressionist tough guy Clyfford Still has shared a sneak peek of its new building in Denver, and the place is a beaut (in a butch, AbEx toughie kinda’ way).

In the photos, the building crouches, bunker-like, over a quick stretch of glass. Its rough, cast-in-place concrete facade is perfectly matched to a guy who was as coarse in his art (huge, jagged paintings) as he was in his life. Still was a prickly old geez, as we wrote back in May. And the museum proves it. He refused to share the vast majority of his work with the public, unless he got a building devoted exclusively to his art. When the Clyfford Still Museum opens this fall, it’ll house a whopping 94% of his total creative output.

Museums for single artists are tricky. They’re monuments to figures who loom larger than life and, as a result, they can skew all-too-easily toward cliche or, worse, outright cartoon. But architect Brad Cloepfil, of Portland-based Allied Works Architecture, was the right man for the job here. His best designs, like the low-slung Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis and the forthcoming National Music Centre in Calgary, are tough on the outside, sweet on the inside, with big, bold gestures and thoughtful floorplans. Plus, he’s some kind of genius with light, feeding sun indoors through slits and crevices and peepholes in the architecture, like little blasts of heaven. He treats light as if it were a palette of oil paint.

With the Clyfford Still Museum, he doesn’t disappoint, at least not on the surface. (Only going off photos, we can't say much about how the galleries are laid out or whether the place is easy to circulate.) The impasto-like exterior captures and reflects the sun, casting an ever-changing pattern of shadows across the facade. Inside, a perforated concrete ceiling throws soft, mottled light onto the galleries. You can read all sorts of weighty things into these dynamic surfaces: They’re about life! Death! The human condition! It’s as close as architecture will ever get to abstract expressionism. We bet Still would (reluctantly) approve.

[Images by Jeremy Bittermann courtesy of the Clyfford Still Museum]

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