Archive for July, 2012

Clyfford Still Museum

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

Denver Art Museum

Big Sweep

We just got back from the downtown Denver complex which contains the History Colorado Center, The Denver Art Museum, and the Clyfford Still Museum.

The History Colorado Center is devoted to demonstrating early life in Colorado and does not shy away from explaining how U.S. Troops massacred Indians or imprisoned Japanese Americans during WW II. It is an interactive museum–you can milk a cow (fill a bucket with light), ride a model T down a dirt road, ski down a ski jump, and wander through a general store. We were there early. As soon as the kids came, we left–it’s a great space for both adults and kids–more leisurely  without the kids, however.

We passed the Denver Art Museum on our way to the Clyfford Still Museum. We’ll have to see inside it another day. Brains can only hold so much information. But the art outside is intriguing and didn’t require active gray cells. The giant broom and dust pan is called, Big Sweep. It’s by Coosje van Bruggen and Claes Oldenburg, made  in 2006.  It’s stainless steel, aluminum, and fiber-reinforced plastic. It’s also a kick.  A great surprise. The large rock-like sculpture in front of the museum is more what you would expect to see.

I really wanted to see the Clyfford Still Museum. It is very new; it opened in November, 2011. Some of the street level inside walls are textured cement, gray, and the art is on gray walls upstairs in this impressive building.

Clyfford Still lived from 1904 to 1980. He left his art to a city which would house it and care for it. Denver was chosen by his widow. None of the art is to be sold, and he stipulated that no restaurant should be part of his museum. Even if you are hungry, you have to admire that.  Only four of his works were sold prior to the opening of the museum in order to fund the museum. The four pieces brought a total of 114 million at auction. You have to come to Denver to see the pictures. It’s worth the trip.

Clyfford Still Museum


His art is displayed chronologically on gray walls.  His work prior to 1944 depicts human figures and machines. The pictures on display when we were there reminded me of Diego Rivera and some of the murals of depression era workers. Still’s figures are juxtaposed against machinery, and the workers hands are distorted and very large.  Not a “feel good” view of  daily toil.

In 1944 he began to work in what became know as “Abstract Expressionism” when he created a huge canvas, approximately 8 feet by 7 feet, thick black paint layered on with a palette knife, interrupted by a jagged  yellow “bolt” and intersected by red. It reminded me of some modern German glass artists who use color rather than recognizable forms to create light and life.  Still said he wanted to fuse texture and color “into a living spirit.”  Done! Some of his smaller lithographs and water colors also demonstrate his exploration of texture and color. His pictures do not have titles, just numbers. So we don’t have preconceived notions of what the paintings are “supposed” to be.

There is a conservation room and large canvases hang from ceiling height. The museum is responsible for 2400 paintings.

Overwhelming. Worth a visit. Or more than one visit.




Taos Pueblo

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

North House, Taos Pueblo

The Taos Pueblo in New Mexico has been inhabited for one thousand years. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The structures are maintained today by the Taos Pueblo Indians and open to the public but restricted to visiting hours and only certain of the structures.  Early photos from the late 1800’s show people swarming all over the structures but today, fortunately, it is not even permitted to climb the ladders.

We arrived early and only two other cars were in the visitor’s lot. There is an entry fee and another fee if you want to carry your  camera in, and an admonishment not to take pictures of any of the Taos Indians without their permission and then to tip them. Tipping struck me as condescending so there are no people in any of my photos. Visitors are not permitted beyond the walls of the Pueblo or into the residential spaces.

Section of South House

The doors you can see on all three levels are recent additions–entry used to be from roof tops. Some of the rooms at ground level are open now as artist studios.  We talked to a few of the artists who were “open” in the early morning. Some were just setting up in the center of the Pueblo. They were selling jewelry, dream catchers, drums, and ceramics but I was disappointed. When we were there about fifteen years ago, we bought a remarkable mask from a woman who is a famous ceramicist. I didn’t see any clay figures or pots to compare with her work. And the jewelry looked the same as what is available in the Taos Plaza and in other gift shops.

San Geronimo Church

They were repainting the San Geronimo Church. It had a new coat of white paint and the wood was being re-stained. The church is very important in the Pueblo. Originally built in  1619 by the conquering Spanish, it was destroyed in the Pueblo revolt against the Spanish in 1680, rebuilt in 1706 when the Spanish again ruled. It was again destroyed, except for the bell tower,  in the U.S. war with Mexico in 1847.

San Geronimo Church

The present church was built in 1850 and is a prominent feature of the Pueblo incorporating both the Catholic religion and native values.  Because of the painting, we could not go inside. The church is a Registered National Historic Landmark.

The structures are of adobe and are constantly repaired. The only water in the sacred village is from The Red Willow Creek which runs through the middle of the pueblo separating it into north and south houses.

Red Willow Creek

No electricity is permitted within the pueblo. Traditional teachings and the language, Tiwa, are not written but passed on orally only to tribal members. One young man told us his grandfather spoke the language but he did not.

Round dome ovens are still used for cooking and making bread. One artist told us he always cooks his meat in his. You can see the dome oven in the photo above of the section of South House. Bread is usually for sale but we were too early for it, although I could smell it baking as we left.

I thought at first that the dome ovens were kilns, but the meat-cooking-artist said, no. Ceramics are fired in pits with the wood placed on top over the clay objects. Some pots have beautiful smoke traces across the clay. The mask we bought years ago has a smoke scar across the eye and nose. Very effective.

You can stand in the center of the Pueblo and look at both the north and south structures. You can also go behind the main north structures to see the Catholic cemetery and the remains of the bell tower of the 1847 church. I didn’t take a picture of the cemetery but I did take one of the alley between two structures. You can see the adobe and why it needs constant repair.

Alley Taos Pueblo

It’s always a challenge to appreciate the preservation of very old structures, imagine how they looked in historic content, and separate that image from what we see as tourists.