In 1944 Clyfford Still painted two ‘versions’ of a single idea. They became 1944-N No. 1 (left) and 1944-N No. 2 (right). The first one Still held on to, and it’s now in the collection of the Clyfford Still Museum. The second one he sold to the Museum of Modern Art, where it is on view today (or whenever MoMA re-opens post-Sandy).
So how did these ‘twin’ paintings happen to happen? As a matter of practice, Still often painted multiple versions of a single idea. However, from what I’ve seen (and I’ve seen less than one percent of the works in the CSM collection, so this could be quite far off), typically Still riffed on a single composition with different colors or different arrangements of key elements. That’s one explanation for these two very similar paintings.
The other is the explanation provided by Still himself in a letter to Albright-Knox director and valued confidant Gordon Smith: “Since [MoMA was] only after my name, I deliberately made the replica very slight and willfully of indifferent quality. In other words, I was willing to stab myself to defy and teach this monster my contempt of it.” The story of MoMA’s Still is a window into the personality of the man.
I’ve written about Still a good bit over the years, but I’ve not focused on Still for nearly as long as Anfam (who wrote his PhD dissertation on Still and who has written a major new essay about the artist for the new book “Clyfford Still: The Artist’s Museum.”) With Sandy still impacting a substantial part of the country, I thought I’d share a roundup of my pieces:
- MoMA’s relegation of Clyfford Still to an oddly inclusive otherness in the 2010 exhibition “Abstract Expressionist New York”;
- An obvious explanation therefore: Clyfford Still’s self-inflicted, dysfunctional relationship with MoMA.
- In 2011 I published a long-form, three-part, posthumous profile of Still: Part one, part two, part three.
- Just for fun: A sampling of more of Still’s venom.