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Will the Clyfford Still Estate Find a Home?

WHEN ABSTRACT Expressionist artist Clyfford Still died of cancer in 1980 at age 75, his estate contained 2,200 artworks, including 750 oil paintings - the bulk of his life's work. During his lifetime he had sold, given away or donated to institutions "roughly 150 paintings," according to his widow, Patricia Still, who adds that he sold paintings "only for food or whatever." In fact, Still sold paintings only to people he believed appreciated their significance, and he declined more invitations to be shown in museums than most artists receive.

Before his death in Maryland, Still drew up a will that stated, "I give and bequeath all the remaining works of art executed by me in my collection to an American city that will agree to build or assign and maintain permanent quarters exclusively for these works of art and assure their physical survival with the explicit requirement that none of these works of art will be sold, given, or exchanged but are to be retained in the place described above exclusively assigned to them in perpetuity for exhibition and study."

There have been no takers for the collection, which, as part of Still's estate, is governed by Mrs. Still. According to Maryland Assistant Attorney General James Klair, the bequest can remain in limbo indefinitely. The paintings are in storage, according to Mrs. Still, who declines to state their location because of concern for their security.

"I think [Still] was very adamant about having his own monument, pure and simple," says Lowery Sims, associate curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's department of 20th-century art, who coordinated the 1979 retrospective of Still's work. The exhibition was one of the largest retrospectives of a living artist's work ever presented by the museum, and Still both chose the paintings and provided the text for the catalogue.

Another curator, who asked not to be identified, says, "The bequest was unusual and difficult. Difficult because he wanted it to go to a city; he wanted it for public use.

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An angry man who felt that his genius had not received its due, Still surrounded his generous bequest to the public - the bulk of his life's work - with conditions so demanding and controversial they may be impossible to fulfill

February 1986/65