The Clyfford Still Museum is situated in Denver, Colorado, at the foot of the Rockies at an elevation that makes those unused to this altitude gasp. When we ascend to the top of a ridge and look out at the vast expanse, we might enjoy a sense of achievement at scaling that terrain or revel at the expanse that spreads before us, but we may also experience the smallness of our own individual existence. This experience might be tinged with a fear of tumbling, being engulfed, or disappearing in the face of such grandeur. Generations of Western artists and intellectuals, especially beginning in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, have described this feeling as the experience of the sublime.
Clyfford Still spent his childhood and adolescence in the West and saw how the boundless plains could offer generous bounty in times of plenty or pitilessly starve in dust and wind. In an interview, he referred to that experience as one that taught him to respect the “awful bigness of the land, the men and the machines.” In subsequent years, he worked on an enormous scale, and each time, he had to confront the awful bigness of the vast expanse of blank canvas.
Organized by the Museum’s associate curator, Bailey Placzek, in collaboration with CSM’s director, Joyce Tsai, Awful Bigness fills the Museum’s largest, skylit galleries and celebrates Still’s biggest, most ambitious works. This installation follows a chronological display of Still’s works in CSM’s first four rooms, which overviews Still’s groundbreaking path to abstraction.