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National Gallery director Kaywin Feldman.
National Gallery director Kaywin Feldman.

Amid Mounting Backlash, Museum Directors Defend Move to Delay Philip Guston Exhibition

The directors of London’s Tate and Washington, DC’s National Gallery of Art (NGA) have separately spoken out against the chorus of dissent that greeted their decision to postpone by four years a major Philip Guston retrospective, The Art Newspaper reports.

“In today’s America—because Guston appropriated images of Black trauma—the show needs to be about more than Guston,” NGA director Kaywin Feldman contended, speaking with Hyperallergic in a podcast. “We weren’t prepared for that. And that’s one of the reasons why I just want to pause and just think about what that means. Also, related, an exhibition with such strong commentary on race cannot be done by all-white curators. Everybody involved in this project is white. . . . We definitely need some curators of color working on the project with us. I think all four museums agree with that statement.”

Tate director Maria Balshaw and Tate Modern director Frances Morris submitted a letter to the Times in which they responded to criticism in that newspaper accusing them of “cowardly self-censorship,” citing inflammatory conditions surrounding race in the US and noting that the British institution could not have forged ahead alone with the exhibition.

“Tate does not self-censor . . .on the postponement of the Philip Guston exhibition organized by the National Gallery Washington with Boston, Houston and Tate Modern. This decision was made in response to the volatile climate in the US over race equality and representation. KKK imagery remains deeply offensive and painful, and ‘ownership’ of representation has never been more contested. For the US institutions, their very credibility among Black and minority ethnic audiences is at stake.

“Proceeding on our own would not have been possible for financial and logistical reasons and would have been disrespectful to our partner museums. We are acutely aware of the disappointment generated by the postponement and remain committed to Guston and to introducing his work to a broader public.”