October 3, 2022

Almost a year after the postponement of a Philip Guston retrospective shook the art world, some of the modernist painter’s controversial paintings featuring caricature Ku Klux Klan characters are on display in New York in September.

Hauser & Wirth, representing the Guston estate, will exhibit the paintings from the artist’s Klansmen series as part of “Philip Guston, 1969-1979”. The exhibition runs from September 9th to October 30th in their New York gallery and shows work from the last decade of his career. (Guston died in 1980.)

The timing “is urgent because the art today is relevant to our cultural context,” said Marc Payot, the gallery’s president, in an email on Wednesday, despite saying the show was not in response to Guston’s postponement -Retrospective has been organized in four major museums last year.

Mr Payot mentioned the “racial settlement and widespread demands for social justice” following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor last summer and how they “reflect the context in which Guston made these late works”.

Last year, three museums in the US and one in the UK had delayed programming a Guston retrospective, the first in more than 15 years, to feature pictures with the painterly motif of the cartoonist Klansmen, because organizers found the pictures were better for them The current political moment had to be contextualized.

Although Guston intended to use the Klan images to criticize racism, anti-Semitism and bigotry, the organizers feared that this would annoy viewers and that the works could be “misinterpreted”.

The traveling exhibition was due to open at the National Gallery of Art in Washington on June 7, 2020 before moving to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, then to the Tate Modern in London, and finally to the Museum of Fine Arts. Boston. The directors of the museums announced in a joint statement last autumn that the retrospective would now open in 2022 – they had initially postponed the exhibition until 2024 – and that “additional perspectives and voices” would be required before the work was shown could be.

Some in the art world called the decision a necessary step backwards amid protests against racial justice, while others condemned it for avoiding challenging works of art.

However, the National Gallery was supported by its board of trustees, including Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation, a philanthropic giant. He told the New York Times in September that if museums hadn’t stepped back to re-examine the exhibit, it would have appeared “deaf.”

“What those who criticize this decision do not understand,” said Walker, “is that the context in the US has changed fundamentally in recent months regarding issues of incendiary and toxic racist imagery in art, regardless of of the.” Virtue or intention of the artist who created it. “

Mr Payot said on Wednesday that Hauser & Wirth had been planning its exhibition “for some time”. The exhibition focuses on Guston’s figurative paintings and includes works that have never been exhibited before. It is also accompanied by public programs.

Mr. Payot admitted that the work was challenging. “But as Guston’s daughter Musa Mayer said: ‘These pictures hit the moment we are in today. The danger is not to look at Philip Guston’s work, but to look the other way. ‘“

The gallery was still making the final selections for the show, but Mr. Payot said it would contain the 1969 painting “Blackboard” showing three hooded Klansmen. He called the painting “an amazing work that is heartbreaking in the way we teach racism to uphold it in America”.

“It’s a rarely seen canvas by an artist at the peak of his ability,” he said. “And we’re honored to be able to show it.”