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Clyfford Still's "lost" masterpieces

Posted by Christopher Shea  January 14, 2009 04:56 PM

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Clyfford Still canvases, at an undisclosed Maryland location

To the surprise of many in the art world, the large cache of paintings and drawings that Clyfford Still and his wife did not donate to museums or sell is in remarkably good shape, reports ARTnews. Still was remarkably disdainful of museums, curators, critics, and his fellow artists, and sold only enough works -- fewer than 180 -- to keep his family in modest comfort. More than 2,000 others remained rolled up and stored haphazardly in the Still house in Windsor, Maryland, at the time of his death, in 1980. (They'd been moved there from a Maryland farmhouse where Still long worked.) Still's wife, Patricia, then took possession of them. Rumors about the collection's supposed neglect and deterioration have circulated for decades. A top curator at the Museum of Modern Art called the situation "a scandal" as early as 1986.

In his will, Still decreed that the works could be donated only if a museum were built to display them and works by no other artist. That condition proved hard to meet until a group of donors and public officials from Denver decided to seize the opportunity. They reached an agreement with Patricia Still shortly before her death, in 2005.

An Art News reporter was invited -- along with curators and conservationists -- to inspect the works in a warehouse in rural Maryland (whose location the magazine agreed not to divulge). Although Still rolled up most of the works for long-term storage -- a no-no, to say the least, in the museum world -- the paintings and drawings are almost all in pristine condition, the magazine reports. And they may include numerous masterpieces.

It's impossible to gauge the collection's worth, but a large Still canvas completed in 1952, titled 1947-R-No.1, sold three years ago at Christie's in New York for $21.3 million.

The Still-specific Denver museum has been designed and about half of its projected $33 million cost has been raised: Clyfford Still, art-world outsider, will have his dream fulfilled at last.

(Photo: Art News)

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