Too Much For Now

From Philip Guston Small Panels show at McKee Gallery,  NYC 2009
From Philip Guston Small Panels show at McKee Gallery, NYC 2009

Philip Guston has been my favorite artist for a long time and I don’t expect him to lose that position before I pass but you never know. I always loved the photo of Guston’s studio with the late 60’s small panels on the wall. The photo has been reproduced in many Guston books and David McKee rounded up the small panels for a show at his gallery in 2009. Of course we made it to that show and Duane Sherwood took a photo of us there looking at this painting. We used it for our holiday card.

The 60’s was a turbulent time, at least as turbulent as ours and Guston’s paintings spoke to that directly. As bluntly as punk rock. If you don’t see the absurdity of these buffoons pointing out their next victim while hiding under their sheets no wall tag is going to help you. And he went much deeper putting himself under the hood painting a self portrait. Apparently this is all too much for us delicate pansies today. Or so the bone-headed thinking of four major art institutions goes as they pulled the plug the Guston retrospective, “Guston Now.” Even though the show is already on the wall and the catalog is on my coffee table.

The directors of National Gallery of Art, Tate Modern, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston came up with this explanation.

Philip Guston Now
Statement from the Directors

After a great deal of reflection and extensive consultation, our four institutions have jointly made the decision to delay our successive presentations of Philip Guston Now. We are postponing the exhibition until a time at which we think that the powerful message of social and racial justice that is at the center of Philip Guston’s work can be more clearly interpreted.

We recognize that the world we live in is very different from the one in which we first began to collaborate on this project five years ago. The racial justice movement that started in the U.S. and radiated to countries around the world, in addition to challenges of a global health crisis, have led us to pause.

As museum directors, we have a responsibility to meet the very real urgencies of the moment. We feel it is necessary to reframe our programming and, in this case, step back, and bring in additional perspectives and voices to shape how we present Guston’s work to our public. That process will take time.

In a statement sent to ARTnews, Musa Mayer, the artist’s daughter and a scholar who has written extensively on Guston, took issue with the decision and said she was “saddened” by the show’s delay. “Half a century ago, my father made a body of work that shocked the art world,” she said. “Not only had he violated the canon of what a noted abstract artist should be painting at a time of particularly doctrinaire art criticism, but he dared to hold up a mirror to white America, exposing the banality of evil and the systemic racism we are still struggling to confront today.”

Citing Guston’s Jewish ancestry and his family’s history of having fled Ukraine at a time when their people were under attack, she said Guston’s work resonates with contemporary concerns. “This should be a time of reckoning, of dialogue. These paintings meet the moment we are in today. The danger is not in looking at Philip Guston’s work, but in looking away.”

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