Clyfford Still’s Radical Repetitions

DENVER — The current exhibition at the Clyfford Still Museum (CSM), Repeat/Recreate, has been on the institution’s wish list for nearly 10 years, since well before it even opened. The museum controls 94% of Clyfford Still’s life’s work, yet the show required 12 lenders to gather pairs and triplicates for their first public display together. The result is a curatorial and institutional triumph.

Multiples illuminate Still’s creative process. Scale is not directional, with the second version becoming either larger or smaller. His choice of media, likewise, can at first be oil (“PH-111,” 1952) and then shift to pastels (“PP-135,” 1956), challenging the assumption that oil is the pinnacle of painting. Many Old Masters, most notably Rembrandt, made multiples, and Abstract Expressionists continued this practice. Robert Motherwell’s Elegies to the Spanish Republic series or Willem de Kooning’sWoman series are just a few examples. The myth that Abstract Expressionists were impulsive producers of spontaneous and unique works is debunked by the very presence of duplicates and triplicates. Still once said, “I do not intend to oversimplify — in fact, I revel in the extra-complex.” Like his process, this exhibition is a reminder that an artist’s life’s work is more important than the individual image.

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