Clyfford Still documentary ‘Lifeline’ to screen at Aspen Art Museum |

Clyfford Still documentary ‘Lifeline’ to screen at Aspen Art Museum

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times


What: ‘Lifeline’ film screening

Where: Aspen Art Museum

When: Friday, Oct 9 (sold out) & Saturday, Oct. 10, 7 p.m.

How much: Free

Tickets: RSVP to

More info: The in-person limited capacity screening will be followed by a Q&A with director Dennis Scholl;

After his revelatory documentary film “Lifeline: Clyfford Still” premiered in November 2019 at DOC NYC, the Aspen- and Miami-based filmmaker Dennis Scholl planned a 50-city screening tour at museums for the spring of 2020, culminating in a June event in Denver at the Clyfford Still Museum dedicated to the abstract expressionist’s work.

But after one stop, at Parrish Art Museum in the Hamptons, the tour halted in mid-March along with most public life in America due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Scholl and his distributor pivoted to an April streaming release through Kino Lorber, which brought it to worldwide audiences and is this weekend finally bringing it to the Aspen Art Museum for a pair of socially distanced in-person screenings and Q&A sessions with Scholl.

“We are thrilled to be able to welcome Dennis to the museum to debut ‘Lifeline in Aspen,’” said Aspen Art Museum director Nicola Lees. “We know this will be a particularly popular screening for those not only familiar with Still and his work, but also from the perspective of Dennis’s friendship and involvement with the AAM and our fellow arts organizations in the Roaring Fork Valley.”

Scholl — a filmmaker, art collector and philanthropist — aims to unravel the mystery of the enigmatic Still, who retreated from the public eye for a private artistic practice as he colleagues like Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock embraced their midcentury fame.

“I was always interested in Still as a psychological study,” Scholl said in April when the film began streaming.

Why did he walk away? Why didn’t he sell his work? Why did he write in his will a demand that kept some 2,000 artworks hidden until a city agreed to build a museum worthy of them?

“Lifeline” finds some answers, through interviews with Still’s daughters, scholars, curators along with contemporary artists and collectors, and through the revelations in 34 hours of newly resurfaced audio tapes of Still himself.

“It showed he wasn’t so much a bitter guy as an independent guy, somebody who felt that integrity was the most important thing,” Scholl said. “The tapes tell you that. And he gave up so much for his integrity.”

The tapes came from the Still archive in Denver, where they’d been stored away and had gone untranscribed until Scholl came looking for material.

“It was just a motherlode,” Scholl recalled.

Several interviews for the film were recorded in the Aspen area, including Scholl’s sessions with Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic Jerry Saltz, poet Tom Healy and artist/filmmaker Julian Schnabel. Dean Sobel, who left his post as director of the Aspen Art Museum in 2005 to become the founding director of the Still Museum, is also prominently featured.

Critics and curators in the film argue, Still’s raw aesthetic became the prime mover of the Abstract Expressionist movement, changing the way the famed New York School painted, from Ad Reinhardt to Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman to Jackson Pollock.

It chronicles Still’s disenchantment with the art world and then details the extraordinary tale of his artwork since Still died in 1980. He bequeathed his life’s work “to an American city that will agree to build or assign and maintain permanent quarters exclusively for these works,” explicitly banning sales and loans of the work.

“It was a 20-year quest to find an American city that would agree to those terms,” Sobel says.

The film lists 26 cities that tried to get Still’s wife, Patricia, to give them the collection between 1983 and 2000, when Denver finally signed a deal.

Then-Mayor John Hickenlooper tells the story of going to see Patricia at her house in Maryland to discuss bringing the collection to Denver, and seeing the treasure trove of art there: “I couldn’t help but having my mind run away with, ‘Wow, I wonder what is in all those rolled up canvases?’”