With regard to the postponed Philip Guston Now retrospective, there has been real progress in conversations with the directors of the four host museums over the past few weeks. Assurances have been made to me, as the daughter of the artist and President of The Guston Foundation about the importance of sharing with the public the full sweep of Guston’s vision in ways that speak to us all in the present day.
While Philip Guston did indeed address racism at key points in his career, his condemnation of social injustice and violence encompassed examples as varied as the Holocaust, the Spanish Civil War, the horrors of the Inquisition, the calumny of the Nixon administration, and police brutality against anti-war demonstrators in 1968. I believe it is essential for the exhibition to contextualize the depth of my father’s social conscience, allowing the hooded figures and other imagery to reclaim their meaning, including but also moving beyond specific references to the Ku Klux Klan. Over his 50-year career, Guston’s art reflected many other personal and painterly dimensions, including works that show his love of Renaissance painting and the 20th century masters he revered, his celebration of the act of painting in itself, and the confessional intimacy and self-revelation of his late works, with their universal human themes.
What we need now, as so many have pointed out, is to actually see Philip Guston’s paintings and drawings in all their complexity, without reductive characterizations. So, I am cautiously optimistic that we will all have a chance to do just that, beginning in May of 2022 at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. I thank all those who have expressed such enthusiasm for my father’s work and have called for Philip Guston Now to go forward. Your support has sustained me during a difficult time. I hope to join you in celebrating the retrospective when it opens.
President of The Guston Foundation, Musa Mayer, and Executive Director, Sally Radic, join Phong H. Bui, Publisher and Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Rail, for a conversation on Philip Guston. Watch the recorded discussion below.
In a new article from Vulture, Hilary Reid speaks to Musa Mayer about curating What Endures, Hauser & Wirth’s latest online exhibition.
In the exhibition text for “What Endures,” you wrote that you were thinking about the “coinciding crises in America now” and how your father’s work spoke to this moment. What is it about the pieces in the show that you felt spoke to this moment?
I always knew that my father was dealing in his work with the pain that he felt so acutely — of the world. That was evident in his very earliest works when he was portraying the horrible cruelty of the Ku Klux Klan, who were marching by the thousands still in the streets of Los Angeles; he witnessed it as a young man. That sense of social injustice and suffering never really left him, and it was always present in his work. I guess it emerged most strongly in the works that were shown at Marlborough Gallery in 1970 that were so controversial, where, after a long sojourn as an abstract painter, he returned to figuration with these really complicated and thoughtful works that were denounced as being crude and cartoonish at the time. Those works will be very much a focus in the upcoming retrospective at the Tate Modern, and I’ve focused in earlier shows on the Nixon drawings and on the works my father did in the years right after the hooded Ku Klux Klan figures. But for this exhibition, it’s sort of a step beyond. It asks, “How did he cope? How did the things that tormented him both in his personal life and the world outside find expression in his work? How was he able to transform them? What were his sources of renewal in the process?”When Hauser & Wirth asked me to curate an online show, though, I was thinking about how it must have been for my father to be working in isolation — registering all that was going on in the world not only in the ’60s but in the ’70s, when the war in Vietnam was still raging, when Nixon was in office, Watergate. All the turmoil, the assassinations that had happened not long before. I thought he was working with the burden of that societal pain. He was famously quoted in response to a New York Post reporter who had been talking about the change in his work. My father said, “What kind of a man am I, sitting at home, reading magazines, going into a frustrated fury about everything — and then going home to adjust a red to a blue?” That was sort of a key moment, not so much of his wanting to reject abstract painting, because I think what he learned from his own process as an abstract painter was so crucial to what came next, but to delve that deeply into the process of his working.
In an article for Cultured Magazine, Musa Mayer, the Guston Foundation’s President, discusses the online exhibition she curated for Hauser & Wirth and how she used her father’s experience for inspiration.
“From my father, I learned by example that all of life, not only the satisfactions and joys, but also—or perhaps especially—the losses and tragedies, were fit subjects for art; that the injustice and cruelty of the world demand a response and that above all, art should be real—grounded in authentic expression, questioning and doubt.
I learned that asking deep questions, being honest with oneself and not turning away from that which is painful is a path for expanding experience. And I learned that navigating dreams, fears, memories—the full weight of the subconscious mind—can lead to fertile new territories ripe for exploration.”
Claire Selvin discusses Guston’s career and upcoming Hauser & Wirth exhibition in her article for ARTNews.
“Philip Guston is best known for his incisive, cartoonish paintings and drawings ranging in subject matter from everyday scenes to narrative political satires, particularly those of Richard Nixon. Guston’s work received varying degrees of critical praise throughout his lifetime, shifting as he changed course.”
The Guston Foundation Launches In-Depth Website on Philip Guston’s Life and Work, Including Catalogue Raisonné with Images and Information for More Than 1,000 Paintings
This New Resource, Fully Accessible to Scholars and General Public Alike, Is Now Available Online; Additional Guston-Related Projects—First Retrospective Exhibition in a Generation and Publications on the Artist and His Legacy—Are Coming Soon
(Woodstock, NY, June 26, 2020)—The Guston Foundation, which is dedicated to the creative legacy of American artist Philip Guston, launched its website philipguston.org today, on the eve of his birthday, including a catalogue raisonné of all of the artist’s known paintings from across his five-decade career. This extensively illustrated resource—intended for scholars and the general public alike—provides an in-depth look at the life and work of Philip Guston (1913-1980), one of the 20thcentury’s most outstanding and influential artists. Read more
Published to accompany the first retrospective museum exhibition of Guston’s art in 15 years—temporarily postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic—this book traces the unconventional path of this hugely important painter (1913–1980), whose constant aesthetic reinvention defies easy categorization.
Incisive essays from leading art historians reveal Guston’s thematic influences and interests, while an authoritative, illustrated chronology shares many new discoveries about his life and work. We also hear from 10 of the most relevant artists of our day—including Glenn Ligon, Amy Sillman, Art Spiegelman, and Rirkrit Tiravanija—for whom Guston’s work has served as inspiration.
Featuring a magnificent array of color plates derived from exquisite new photographs of Guston’s paintings, this generously illustrated volume also highlights rarities including little-known cartoons drawn by Guston in his youth and intimate, previously unpublished photographs of his studio and painting materials.
The National Gallery of Art will present a major retrospective, Philip Guston Now, spanning the entirety of Guston’s career. The exhibition will feature some 125 paintings and 70 drawings, from public and private collections. Accompanying the retrospective will be a monograph featuring essays written by the co-curators, with an illustrated chronology of the artist’s life and career.
Kaywin Feldman, Director of the Washington, D.C. museum, says “This exhibition will provide an in-depth look at the career that led to his iconic late paintings and will surely secure Guston’s place in the pantheon of modern art, while reassessing his impact on the art of the present.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Philip Guston Now will debut at the Tate Modern, early 2021.
On 5 January 2020, Resilience: Philip Guston in 1971 closed at Hauser & Wirth’s Los Angeles gallery. It was the first solo exhibition in his boyhood hometown of Los Angeles in over half a century. It documented the work of a single year in Guston’s life. The show was curated by the artist’s daughter, Musa Mayer who wrote an insightful essay offering a window into the artist’s state of mind during that year, primarily through his own words.
“I see now how it feels to do something new and original.” – Philip Guston