Monday, October 25, 2021

Philip Guston 1969-1979

Phillip Guston, "The Studio" (1969)

Philip Guston (1913-1980) courted controversy two times in his life. The first was on the occasion of his 1970 show at the Marlborough Gallery when he introduced figuration into his work. The second occurred long after his death, when his figures of Klansman created a backlash causing an exensive four museum retrospective "Philip Guston Now" to be postponed (it's now scheduled to open in 2022). At first it was Guston's style that was challenged. Later it would be the subject matter. In the current show at Hauser & Wirth, "Philip Guston l969-1979,Klansmen are presented in everyday poses, performing disconcertingly ordinary, "banal" (a la Hannah Arendt) activities, as if they were just normal people going about their business And the artist is careful not to exclude himself. One of the paintings depicts a Klansman as artist with a brush in one hand and a cigarette in the other. In later works from l973-1979, Guston uses images of legs, shoes and trash that recall the photos of the piles of corpses discovered in the Nazi concentration camps. These paintings are imbued with anxiety. In "Pittore" (1973), Guston is depicted lying in bed with a cigarette in his mouth, the clock above reading 10:40. It's disappointing that that the Klan images, in particular, have been a source of concern since, however disturbing, they make a powerful argument for the moral imperative in art. In addition, their cartoon like quality adds another layer to the emotional palette they comprise.  “When the l960s came along I was feeling split, schizophrenic,” Guston once explained, “The war, what was happening to America, the brutality of the world. What kind of man was I, sitting at home, reading magazines, going into frustrated fury about everything and then going into my studio to adjust a red to a blue?”

Read "Unreliable Narrative" by Francis Levy, The Screaming Pope

and listen to "Sympathy for the Devil" by The Rolling Stones


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