Reviewed October 2018
Clyfford Still: The Works on Paper
Mary Jo Orzech, Scholarly Communications Librarian
Drake Memorial Library, The College at Brockport, State University of New York
Clyfford Still (1904 – 1980) produced more than 2,300 known artworks on paper; 256 are included in this online exhibition. The free resource highlights an engaging catalogue of the physical exhibition held in the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver from October 14, 2016 – January 15, 2017. A Table of Contents makes the site easy to navigate; the exhibit is organized by ‘room’ theme in loose chronological order. A numbered floorplan is keyed to each theme, identified as The Draftsman; Landscape; The Figure; First Abstractions; The Richmond Oils; San Francisco; New York City; and The Late Drawings.
The variety and diversity of media are breathtaking, including graphite, charcoal, pastel, crayon, pen and ink, oil paint, gouache, and tempera works. Examples of Still’s lithography, etching, woodcut, and silkscreen are also included.
The opening essay, “Rendering the Sublime” by Patricia Failing is a welcome introduction to Still’s life and work as well an overview of the exhibition, which primes the reader for what is to come. Additional context and clarity are provided through entries written by the museum’s curatorial staff. The online exhibition also includes an “About” section, which thoughtfully provides citation information along with a “Revision History” for additional editorial transparency.
The site’s organization and sequencing are logical and well executed. Clicking on any theme provides an overview of how the works were displayed in the physical exhibition space, followed by the images themselves, which can be clicked for further details, including title, date, format, size, and collection details. Some of the artworks also include further descriptive or interpretative details. The metadata for each work on paper is consistent and provides background information for both the layperson and the scholar. The images display well on a desktop computer screen and credibly on handheld devices, e.g., iPad and iPhone. The use of vibrant colors add richness and invites additional discovery in the images. The ability to scale images is a key advantage and an example of interactivity that allows the viewer to zoom in or out for a closer look without leaving the webpage, enhancing usability.
An “About” section thoughtfully provides citation information along with revision history for additional exhibition transparency. Hyperlinks to examples underscore the text and provide added value.
Still was a keen observer of a wide range of subjects including natural landscapes, human figures and physical artifacts like farm implements and machinery. The online exhibition shows his work as it moves from realistic images to growing levels of abstraction. The images are grouped such that they can be compared and contrasted with relative ease. As a draftsman, Still demonstrated a practiced eye and notable vision of worlds both imagined and real. The museum attests to his vision for keeping the collection largely whole; this resource strengthens visibility and access for new audiences. The overall look and feel of the online exhibition are understated and inclusive.
Curatorial expertise brings the works to life making them accessible online in a way that is simultaneously worldly and ethereal. The artist’s aesthetic is captured and highlighted throughout the exhibition. Still masterfully used both positive and negative space; that tension is used throughout the exhibit to great effect. The clean and uncluttered template keeps the webpages fresh while encouraging deeper exploration. The carefully curated selection of images provides an essence of the art without being overwhelming. The resource is highly recommended as an introduction to this prolific American artist and as a source for additional research and reflection.