The conservator’s dilemma at Denver’s Clyfford Still Museum

In the back corner of the Clyfford Still Museum, a glass door allows partial views of the interior of the conservation studio, where every few days, a new painting is unrolled and the work of preparing it to be exhibited — often, for the very first time — begins. Since Clyfford Still withdrew his work from public view in the 1950s, many of his paintings, which can span 12 to 14 feet, have been rolled in 4-inch diameter cardboard tubes and the occasional plumbing pipe. They were stacked as many as 12 deep, sometimes while their oil paints had not yet fully dried. Unrolling them for the first time is a bit like unwrapping a present that comes marked “some assembly required.” The task of readying those paintings for exhibition — and a surprising array of ethical questions accompanying that project — requires a mix of chemistry, physics, art and

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