Denver Selects Sotheby’s to Sell Clyfford Still Paintings
Bloomberg reports that the City of Denver, where the Clyfford Still museum will open November 18, 2011, has chosen Sotheby’s to sell four paintings by Clyfford Still through either a private sale or public auction. The proceeds from the sale of works originally part of Patricia Still’s estate will be sold to benefit the museum endowment. Sotheby’s guaranteed the city $25 million and Bloomberg says Sotheby’s could earn as much as $15 million in commission. Art Sales Index records show that three most recent Clyfford Still paintings to go under the hammer were all sold at that auction house: “1947-R-No.1” fetched $21.3 million in 2006 “1955-D, PH-387” sold for $7.9 million in 2007, and “1946 (PH-182)” made $14 million in 2008.
In selecting Sotheby’s, the city rejected Christie’s International, which sold a large Still canvas in 2006 for $21.3 million. Jan Brennan, director of the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs, and one of the nine members of the selection committee, told Bloomberg the selection process was competitive, fair and followed the city’s contracting procedures.
Clyfford Still (1904-1980) was an abstract expressionist painter, notorious for his freakish control of his work that often made sales difficult. He sold little work during his lifetime and frequently rejected exhibition opportunities. His will stipulated that the estate be given in its entirety to a U.S. city willing to establish a permanent museum housing his work alone along with following certain rules, which include forgoing a restaurant and an auditorium in the building, and agreeing not to loan out or sell any of the works in the collection. The works being sold are from Patricia’s collection, which had fewer restrictions.
Denver was selected in 2004 by Still’s wife Patricia. The city received Still’s 2,400-piece collection, including 825 paintings. The following year she bequeathed to the city her own estate, which included her husband’s complete archives.
The four works to be sold include three from the 1940s and one from 1976. The largest painting is 8 feet x 7 feet. And Denver Post art critic Kyle MacMillan has called into question the ethics of the sale.
Denver City Council must still approve the contract. If the works are not sold privately, they will appear in the Nov. 9 auction at Sotheby’s of contemporary art.