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Philip Guston has been the subject of great controversy this year because of his paintings. Tate Modern postponed his show, while Hauser & Wirth introduced us to a new perspective on Guston's works through his daughter's eyes: A must watch virtual exhibition with a powerful and needed message of hope.

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Latest protests against racism has impacted every sector, including the art world. Thus, art institutions are paying more attention than ever on what should or should not be displayed. Tate has been criticised by some and praised by others for postponing Philip Guston’s exhibition to 2024. The reason to this decision is linked to the subjects depicted by Guston's work: members of the Klu Klux Klan. Can Guston’s artistic practice be considered dangerous?

Hauser & Wirth seems to disagree. The blue-chip gallery successfully decided to keep its virtual exhibition titled "Philip Guston.What Endures", which consists in thirteen paintings by Guston selected by Musa Mayer, the artist’s daughter and the founder of The Guston Foundation. The paintings were produced between 1971 and 1976 – a time of social and political crisis in America withparallels to the current state of crisis in America and the world at large.

 

Screenshot ofPhilip Guston virtual exhibition at Hauser & Wirth.

 

Philip Guston emerged as a social-realist painter in 1930 and he quickly realised that he wanted his art to be meaningful. Guston went to school with Jackson Pollock, worked with David Alfaro Siqueiros and was substantially influenced by Giorgio de Chirico. Elements of American culture (including pop culture), traditional Mexican muralism and Italian metaphysics as well as the conflicts he lived during his life were intensely represented in his poetics. Although he was recognized as part of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Guston's paintings were utterly different from his contemporary masters and he developed a very personal style, a sort of cartoon realism. 

 

Philip Guston, “Riding Around” (1969). Via ArtNews.

 

"Philip Guston.What Endures" is a great way to get to know more about the artist and maybe get a feel of why Philip Guston is the theme of such controversy in the last months. Although there are no Klu Klux Klan depictions in the selected paintings, these are key to get a feel of what Guston work was all about. This exhibition is divided into three rooms: "The Solace of the Past", "The Rising Tide" and "Deliverance".

 

Philip Guston, “Relic” (1974), First room: “The Solace of the Past”. Via Hauser & Wirth.

 

The first room features early paintings: Guston took inspiration from the past while he was still developing his iconic style. After a quick glance, we immediately understand the color palette used by Guston is peculiar: tones of pink, red with highlights of black and whites. The first painting we encounter is "Relic" (1974) - a large-scale artwork where we can point out a foot in a reddish colour; there are some lines surrounding it, which may resemble a pathway. As Musa Mayer writes, ‘In these fragments, what endures from an earlier time is revealed.’

 

Philip Guston, “Head-Legs-Sea” (1975), Second Room: “The Rising Tide”. Via Hauser & Wirth.

 

Moving to the second room - "The Rising Tide" – we can note a slight change in the colour tone. The three large paintings displayed in this room are more descriptive. They depict human figures in bold and expressive brushstrokes, their colours are darker and more vivid at the same time. The faceless figures almost drowned in blood create an atmosphere of foreboding and sadness. Philip Guston often mentioned that most of his paintings were self-portraits, and from what we know, these half-heads are a representation of his relationship with his so loved wife. Guston's daughter, while curating this exhibition, focused on the isolation period of the artists while the Vietnam war was still going on in the mid-'60s. This focus required the intimate side of the life of Philip Guston with his wife and how meaningful she was to his artistic practice.

 

Philip Guston, “Afloat” (1974), Second Room: “The Rising Tide”. Via Hauser & Wirth.

 

The third room is comprised of “Both”, a single painting completed by Guston in 1976. Two heads of Musa rise from the purple horizon, one blond and youthful with upturned eyes, one gray-haired, with furrowed brow. The storm has abated, and the sea and sky are a peaceful blue. This tender painting is a hopeful image, a contrast between what is gone and what is coming.

 

Philip Guston, “Both” (1976), Third Room: “Deliverance”. Via Hauser & Wirth.

 

This final section stands as a message of hope: “In these strange, evocative, yet intensely personal images, the artist uncovers what is universal. In uncertain times, in the midst of overwhelming circumstance, it is love that endures” (Musa Mayer).

Hauser & Wirth is to be praise for this incredibly curated exhibition and for showing that Philip Guston is worthy of being remembered. “Philip Guston. What endures” is a clever example of how art institutions can overcome the atrocities of current times, shifting stereotypes and rounding controversies with fresh, positive perspectives. 

Check this exhibition here.

 

Cover image: Philip Gustonposing in front of “Painter's Table” (1973). Photo by Barbara C. Sproul. Via The Art Newspaper

Written by Tania Teixeira

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