Clyfford Still (1904 – 1980)

7 april - 1 june, 1992 /
Sabatini Building, Floor 1
Exhibition view. Clyfford Still (1904 – 1980), 1992
Exhibition view. Clyfford Still (1904 – 1980), 1992

True to Clyfford Still's (Grandin, North Dakota, 1904 - Baltimore, Maryland, 1980) wish that his work be preserved and exhibited as a whole, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, USA) and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art house the most significant collections of his painting. This exhibition brings together an unprecedented ensemble of thirty five canvases from these two collections, enabling Still's work to be contemplated while unearthing his complex and maverick nature. Although disconnected from any influences and the exhibition and commercial circles forging Abstract Expressionism, around 1945 he becomes associated with Peggy Guggenheim and Betty Parsons, exhibiting in their respective galleries, and strikes up a friendship with Mark Rothko as well as forming relationships Robert Motherwell and Barnett Newman, among others. His stern and disciplined character is defined by the control he has over his work and its sales and over his participation in exhibitions and their respective catalogues.

Still's early work contains discernible figurative references, as seen in the Upright man (1934), and then gradually starts to distort the relationship between figure and ground, thus giving rise to a kind of abstract landscape. It is also worth noting that around 1937 he starts to denominate and order his pictures by year and number, just like a register - decades later he states how each of his works must be viewed as a diary entry. Therefore, his work must be understood as an enormous visual autobiography, substantiating the desire to preserve it as one whole ensemble.

From the forties onwards, his choice to do away with the easel in favour of large-scale canvases enables him to develop his mural-like paintings. One of the overriding characteristics is verticality, accentuated by blazing geological forms that traverse the pictorial space, with the colour fields acknowledged as fissures and crevices within a geological landscape, acting as energy fields with their explosive and spontaneous appearance. In this regard, 1954 becomes the paradigm for his work as he starts to portray underlying themes of nature - understood as an individual experience - and applies the romantic concept of the sublime.

The art critic Michael Auping talks about how: “Still was one of the first American painters of his generation to look at the reductive possibilities of monochromatic painting (…) and saw greater potential in the emotional effects of modulated colours”, as illustrated in his composition 1951-E. Black is generally his chosen colour, dominating his work in the late forties. In the fifties it is used as a positive and active force that reiterates the duality of black / white as light / dark, which in the sixties takes on a kind of malevolent darkness. Nevertheless, Still knows how to fully utilize background on his canvases, often leaving them untouched to bring out all the materic and chromatic elements.

Exhibition´s details

Organized by: 
Kunsthalle Basel in collaboration with Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
Thomas Kellein
Exhibition Tour: 

Kunsthalle, Basel (January 26 - March 22, 1992); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (June 19 - August 30, 1992); Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, USA (January 15 - March 7, 1993); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (March 25 - June 13, 1993)