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Philip Guston, Edge of Town, 1969. Photo: Seth Tisue/Flickr.
Philip Guston, Edge of Town, 1969. Photo: Seth Tisue/Flickr.

Postponed Philip Guston Retrospective to Open in 2022

The controversial postponement of the long-awaited exhibition “Philip Guston Now” today took another turn with the announcement by the four organizing institutions that the show will now open in May of 2022. The exhibition will launch at the  Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where it will be on view May 1–September 11, 2022. It will appear at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, October 23, 2022–January 15, 2023, before traveling to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, February 26–August 27, 2023, finishing at Tate Modern, London, October 3, 2023–February 4, 2024.

“Navigating the exhibition schedules of four institutions, amid a global pandemic, has been complicated,” NGA director Kaywin Feldman said in a statement. “This additional time will allow us to slow down, get past Covid, and bring the gallery’s community together in person for challenging conversations that will help inform how we rethink the exhibition.”

The organizers of retrospective, originally slated to open summer 2020 and pushed to 2021 by the continuing Covid-19 pandemic, were met with a firestorm of criticism upon announcing this past September that they would be postponing the show until 2024 owing to concerns surrounding the Ku Klux Klan imagery that appears in Guston’s work. Nearly 2,900 people, including many notable figures in the art world, signed an open letter circulated by the Brooklyn Rail calling for the show to be reinstated, and condemning the decision to postpone as an act of cowardice and an insult to the intellectual capacities of the show’s presumed audience. The exhibition’s directors defended their decision, citing racial tensions in the US in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, and asserting that they wished to diversify the all-white curatorial team.

Though there has as yet been no announcement regarding changes to the curatorial team, MFA Boston director Matthew Teitelbaum acknowledged that “more diverse voices contributing to the preparation of historical framing materials that allow us to appreciate the context in which Guston worked and achieved his vision.” The catalogue accompanying the exhibition already contained essays by African American artists Glenn Ligon and Trenton Doyle Hancock, the latter of whom examines Guston’s Klan figures within the context of his own oeuvre.

The announcement of the new dates continues to stimulate discussion, with The Art Newspaper calling for the organizing institutions to use the months between now and the exhibition’s opening to reinterpret the work through the lens of current events and to examine their own shortcomings in regard to race. Musa Mayer, Guston’s daughter, who had publicly denounced the original postponement, said in a statement that she was “cautiously optimistic” that the artist’s works will be presented “in all their complexity, without reductive characterizations.”

Correction [November 12]: Directors at Tate and the National Gallery defended the postponement decision, not the exhibition’s curators.