finding the reclusive clyfford still

20130520-074951.jpgThere are unknown artists and there are legendary masters. Rarely could one man be described as both. Abstract expressionist Clyfford Still, however, was one and the same. After a retreat from the art world in the 1940’s, he controlled who got to see his canvases – and how. But his influence on Pollack, Newman, and Rothko was profound. An eponymous museum in Denver maintains some 2,500 of his works – everything in Still’s possession at the time of his death. Seen collectively they give rise to the idea that Still was not merely a painter of individual artworks but the architect of a grand symphonic vision.

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the menil collection

A few blocks away from MFAH, in a quiet residential neighborhood, the Menil Collection anchors a cultural enclave of shaded streets where unassuming bungalows sit side-by-side with art filled chapels, artist pavilions, and outdoor sculpture. It’s the distinctive – and decidedly eclectic – vision of Houston philanthropists John and Dominque de Menil, whose private art collection forms the bulk of the museum. As modernists, the de Menils recognized the formal and spiritual connections between contemporary art and the arts of ancient and indigenous cultures, so while at first it might seem curious to pass through a gallery hung with Surrealists into a room full of carved statuary from Oceania, intellectually it makes perfect sense once considered. What appears at first to be slap dash has actually been meticulously planned. That spirit of intellectual provocation is one of the things I most love about this curious collection. Another is the fact that the de Menils enjoyed close friendships with many of the contemporary artists whose work they collected, including Max Ernst, Jasper Johns, Yves Klein, Rene Magritte, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol and Mark Rothko; meaning much of the American postwar Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art and Minimalism hasn’t simply been collected, but commissioned.

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