Sundays with Clyfford Still: One Man’s War (8)

Welcome to Sundays With Clyfford Still.  I’m your host, M.K. Hajdin.

This is number 8  in the series.  You can read the other posts here.

Untitled from 1974 by Clyfford Still

Untitled, Clyfford Still, 1974. Photo credit: SFMoMA

A howling grey wind in a night that has swallowed all color.  We’re just fragments of  red, yellow, blue and white,  engulfed in infinite darkness.

“I will always represent a one-man war against the abdication of individual will [institutions]  usually demand, and the confusion of purpose they introduce, since power is basic to their survival… We can never meet except in a state of armed truce.”

Clyfford Still, from letter to Dorothy Miller, July 15,  1952.

Clyfford is explaining his distaste for museums here, in more eloquent terms than than my usual phrase  “elitist snobs”.  Those institutions now accept Still as a Great American Painter, though they chafe and carp and call him names like “cantankerous” and “megalomaniac” because they don’t like being called out for what they are, much less openly scorned for it.

Now you might be thinking: “but if Clyfford hated museums, why did he plan for his own museum to be established after his death and spend much of his life squirrelling away paintings for it? ”

The great thing about being dead is that you don’t have to put up with any bullshit.    Clyffie knew his own museum would be run by elitist snobs, because that is the way of all museums, but he also knew how museums worship the dead.  In death, he would get the respect he wanted.  He would never be treated in the often dismissive way living artists are treated, and  no one could defy his will.

Clyffie planned his own immortality much as did the ancient Egyptian pharoahs,  working for years to fill his tomb with treasures.  Instead of being buried with him in death, they were buried with him during his life, and after death the tomb was opened for the world to see.  He knew true immortality existed only in the public mind.

In his war against the art world, he was no foot soldier, but a master general.

One wonders what the pharaohs would have thought of the modern-day museum.  The fetishization of the dead, the attempt to preserve everything no matter how trivial, the wealth and power and corruption of it all:  everything Clyfford Still despised would have delighted them.



Somewhat related news:

SFMoMA and the Clyfford Still museum staff, who strenously ignore me both via email and twitter, are now using my #ClyffordLove hashtag like they invented it.   It’s not like I mind, exactly.  Hashtags are hardly exclusive;  Twitter is an open discussion, so they are welcome to use #ClyffordLove all they want.   It’s just curiously amusing when people who think they’re so far above you socially that you aren’t worth talking to are caught copying you.

Questions or comments?  You are warmly invited to leave a comment below, or tweet to me with the hashtag #clyffordlove.

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