Serota, Clyfford Still, and the Denver Art Museum

This Saturday I went to the Denver Art Museum to see the Ruscha show, and spent some time in the Modern & Contemporary Art galleries.  There was a handful of Motherwell paintings clustered mostly on the right side of the room (kind of awkward: there was a smaller gallery close to the front with his drawings, and then as you entered the main gallery space there were a few larger, later paintings hanging on the right side of the wall, and another one, the biggest one, hanging so that it faced you as you enter the main space), but to the left, almost hidden in a corner, was a single Clyfford Still painting: PH-69.

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After visiting the Still museum earlier this semester, it was amazing to compare the environments of his work.  In the Still museum, each piece has its own distinguishing space, and of course, only Still’s paintings are on display.  In DAM, PH-69 was jammed into a corner, juxtaposed with a bronze sculpture and other works from other artists, and the walls around it were glowing pink from the reflections of Skoglund’s Fox Games.  After seeing this display, I can absolutely understand why Still took so much control over his works and how they were displayed.  As you can see in the photo, the solitary Still painting seems dwarfed and out of place.

Because of this, the Serota reading gave me a lot to think about.  Serota makes the stand that yes, the Eastlake method of hanging works by school is insufficient, but Serota also claims that the single artist displays are not adequate either because they do not allow the viewer to draw important parallells with other artists and other movements.  In the case of DAM, it is obviously apparent that the chronology groupings are not sufficient, or thorough enough- the collection is too limited and vague to really talk that much about various artistic developments (at least in my opinion).  But in one facet, it is helpful to see a Still right next to a Motherwell- I could see familiarities between these two colorfield painters.  On the other hand, in the Still museum, you can reflect on the progression of a single artist’s developments along his career, but you don’t get that much context, the ‘climactic zones’ mentioned in the article.  Each work is given more respect, but I will definitely admit that something is lost when you can’t compare to other artists.  In the end though, I think that the Still museum was a better museum experience.  It was more valuable to me to see the developments of one artist’s career than to see a random display of various artists and works, brought together only under the context of their historical period.

As a middle ground, we could look at the Motherwell groupings within the DAM contemporary art exhibit.  They are displayed together within the larger gallery.  It allows time and thought to be given to Motherwell’s work, and it makes you pay attention to each painting.  But these works are from a specific period of Motherwell’s production, so you don’t get to see a lot of progression within the artist.  But it is still helpful to see Motherwell’s work within the larger context of modern/contemporary art.  I think that if the Motherwell paintings were from various points in his career, rather than only a single period, it would have been more informative.  But I also don’t know if it would be the best way to set up a museum.  Any thoughts?

Lets try the poll feature:

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