This is the second in a multi-part series in which naive, college student Heidi (ie Heidi from 2012) attempts to understand modern art. Join us for a wild ride. Check out part 1 and part 2. In this installment, Heidi learns more about the artist whose essentially un-named painting, '1952-A' started her on this whole adventure, Clyfford Still.
I think Clyfford Still would have liked the comparison of compensation for art to the sacrifice of children, but I don’t think he would have agreed with the conclusion [if you have no idea what I'm talking about, check out part 2 here!]. Where Bruce thought that the puny amount of money was not enough, I think Still would have thought that the compensation itself is the pit.
Still was the first of his New York contemporaries to completely reject all recognizable shapes and objects in his paintings in the 1940s. He once described his paintings as “life and death merging in a fearful union… they kindle a fire; through them I breathe again, hold a golden cord, find my own revelation.” No wonder his work turned me into a starer – he had lassoed my soul with his golden cord.
He offered no help in interpreting his paintings, though. In fact, he became enraged when art critics even attempted to interpret what he meant. His paintings were named with years and letters intentionally – he didn’t want to assist the spectator in any way. He thought his work would allow the viewer to look to the state of his own soul. Apparently mine can’t decide if it wants to sit peacefully or be ripped open.
According to Still, the New York art world was “hopelessly frivolous and decadent” and so, in the 1960s, he retreated. He placed severe restrictions on his artwork and wouldn’t allow it to be shown next to any other artist. After his death in 1980, all of his 2,400 paintings that were not already public were sealed off until a city could build a museum to his specifications that would show his work and his work alone. Colorado won the bid and to raise money for the endowment, they auctioned off four of his paintings. One of them sold for $61.7 million dollars. Still, in his famous arrogance once said, “You can turn the lights out. The paintings will carry their own fire.” For $61.7 million, they’d better.
Later that year, a woman was arrested in the museum for rubbing her bare ass on one of Still’s $30 million paintings. She also urinated, but luckily none if it made it onto the canvas. Experts say the stunt caused $10,000 of damage to the painting. I’m not sure if Still would have been enraged or found it hilarious, but at least the woman didn’t try to interpret what the painting meant. I’m not sure there is space for something as logical as atoms in this world.
Check out the next installment here.