Organized by Clyfford Still Museum associate curator Bailey Placzek in collaboration with CSM director Joyce Tsai, Awful Bigness fills CSM’s largest galleries and celebrates Still’s biggest, most ambitious works.
The Clyfford Still Museum sits at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, the largest mountain range in North America. When we hike to the top of these landforms and look across the vast landscape, we might enjoy a sense of achievement while also feeling our own smallness. This experience might include a fear of tumbling, being engulfed, or disappearing in the face of such grandeur. Western artists and intellectuals, including Clyfford Still, called this experience sublime.
Still spent his childhood and adolescence in the West and saw firsthand how the boundless plains could offer people generous bounty in times of plenty, or cause them to pitilessly starve in dust and wind. This environment deeply impacted Still. In a late 1970s interview with famed art critic Thomas Albright, he said that experience taught him to respect the “awful bigness of the land, the men and the machines.”
In the mid-to-late 1940s, Still started to create works of enormous scale—and each time had to confront the awful bigness of a vast, blank canvas. His massive paintings surround our field of vision and create immersive, awesome experiences. Immense in both scale and ambition, Still’s largest paintings provoke BIG feelings—awe, terror, and even transcendence—and offer space to explore BIG ideas in our galleries.
Awful Bigness follows a chronological display of Still’s works in CSM’s first four galleries, which overviews Still’s 60-year career and groundbreaking journey toward abstraction.