Court Greenlights Clyfford Still Museum's Creative Maneuver to Sell Off Four Paintings

Court Greenlights Clyfford Still Museum's Creative Maneuver to Sell Off Four Paintings

In keeping with the wishes of the notoriously cantankerous Abstract-Expressionist, who died in 1980, Denver's planned Clyfford Still Museum has agreed to some remarkable restrictions: it will have no restaurant or auditorium, will show only Still's work, and will not sell or loan any of its holdings. ARTINFO reported last fall that the museum was hoping to raise funds by selling four works from the estate of the late Patricia Still, the artist's wife — skirting any potential de-accessioning controversy by organizing the sale before the works can officially become part of museum's collection, and not technically sullying the institution's hands in the sale, which violates the artist's express wish that his oeuvre remain intact. Now a Maryland court has given the museum the green light to proceed.


Still ended his relationships with his New York galleries in the 1950s. He was well-known for having many disagreements with museums interested in acquiring his work, and consequently held on to an astounding amount of his artistic output. In 2004, Patricia Still donated her late husband's collection to Denver for the establishment of the Clyfford Still museum. Upon her death in 2005, she left the museum her own collection of his paintings, bringing the total bequest to approximately 2,400 works, or 94 percent of Still's total output. Many of these works have never been exhibited.

In a statement, the Clyfford Still Museum said that a circuit court of Maryland with jurisdiction over Patricia Still's estate ruled on Thursday that four works can be sold without entering the collection, with the revenue going toward the museum "to support its endowment and collection-related expenses." The executors of the estate did not object to the museum's request.

The four works to be sold were chosen to complement one another as a grouping, since "the museum and the city and country of Denver have a strong interest in keeping these paintings in the public domain." Although Clyfford Still demanded that his work be kept together, this is not the first time that a small number of artworks have left the collection. Patricia Still gave away, sold, or brought to auction 13 works in her possession following her husband's death in 1980.

So far, the Clyfford Still Museum has raised a combined total of $30 million for its construction, operation, and endowment. It is scheduled to open to the public in late 2011.