There are few museums in the world devoted to the work of a single artist—think of the Picasso Museum in Paris, Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe, Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and Donald Judd’s installations in Marfa, Texas. And now, Denver has the Clyfford Still Museum. After seven years of negotiation and construction, the 28,000-square-foot exhibition and study center opened in November 2011. Without a doubt, it is another jewel in the city’s significant and sophisticated civic crown, representing a successful partnership between public and private interests. Those unfamiliar with the story of the museum’s establishment, however, might have a few questions. Why Clyfford Still? And, why Denver? The answers reveal a fascinating and baroque story that involves a singular artist with an abiding desire to control his legacy, an eccentric one-page will, a visionary mayor, and a passionate group of donors.
Jonathan “Jon” Abrams loved what he saw and bought what he loved. That simple directive guided the breathtaking art collection of the Albuquerque art maven, a recently retired cardiologist, awardwinning University of New Mexico professor of medicine, curator, and friend of the arts.
Larry Bell caught the Los Angeles art wave in the late 1950s and has been successfully navigating those often turbulent waters ever since. Instead of looking to art history for guidance like their New York counterparts, Bell and a handful of renegade Southern California artists found inspiration in their immediate surroundings—lackluster architecture, tacky billboards, and the prevalent hot-rod and surf cultures of their day.
Like many middle-class Albuquerque neighborhoods, Las Alturas exhibits a quietly gentrified uniformity, with kelly-green lawns and blooming gardens fronting the overwhelmingly Pueblo, Territorial, or brick-and-stucco Ranch style homes.