Since 1983, in fact, Artnet’s price database shows only 55 auction results for Still’s work—and some pieces have come to auction multiple times over the past few decades. In November, collectors got another rare shot at owning a Still when his 1946 canvas PH-399
appeared at Sotheby’s evening sale of contemporary art in New York and set off a 15-minute bidding war. The work, expected to bring in between $12 million and $18 million, eventually sold for $24.2 million. David Galperin, Sotheby’s senior vice president, attributed the fierce competition to the scarcity of Still’s work at auction. “When a great example comes to market, people recognize that their next chance at one may be a long time down the road, if ever,” he said. No one knows exactly how many Stills remain in private hands, but according to a Denver Post
article from 2011, the total is probably fewer than 40.
Galperin interpreted the recent Still result as a “continued boost of confidence in the market and strength,” noting that PH-399 sold for more than double its low estimate. He also pointed out that the canvas was about half the size of 1949-A-No. 1, the record-breaking Still.
The Clyfford Still Museum itself is a feat, but the artist’s legendary restrictions still inhibit curators who might want to show his work in new, enlightening contexts and any interested viewers who don’t happen to live in cities with Still holdings. Critic Jerry Saltz, who appears in Scholl’s documentary to critique Still’s disdain for art critics, offers a strong assessment. He shouts at the camera, as if to the artist in his grave: “You don’t own the meaning of your work!”