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Philip Guston, Scared Stiff, 1970, oil on canvas, 57 x 81".

Tate Suspends Curator for Publicly Criticizing Postponement of Guston Show; Postponement Moves from 2024 to 2022

Tate Modern has reportedly suspended senior curator Mark Godfrey after he posted to his personal Instagram account a lengthy criticism of the controversial decision to postpone until 2024 a major Philip Guston retrospective, “Philip Guston Now,” that was a long-planned collaboration among four institutions meant to open this year.

The postponement of the show—today announced to be only until 2022—of the American-Canadian neo-expressionist artist, which was to have been a joint effort among the National Gallery of Art (NGA), Washington, DC; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and Tate Modern, London, was announced September 21 after curators at the NGA raised concerns about the exhibition’s reception in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and amid the strong and sustained resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, given that some of the works in the show depicted Ku Klux Klan Members. Apprehension swirled regarding the public’s ability to appreciate the works in the context of their making and of history, with additional concerns being raised about the exhibition having been assembled by an all-white curatorial team.

“Cancelling or delaying the exhibition is probably motivated by the wish to be sensitive to the imagined reactions of particular viewers, and the fear of protest,” Godfrey wrote in his September 24 post. “However, it is extremely patronising to viewers, who are assumed not to be able to appreciate the nuance and politics of Guston’s works. By cancelling or delaying, a message is sent out that the institutions ‘get’ Guston’s Klan paintings, but do not trust their audiences.”

Godfrey additionally noted that “[w]hen the curators of Philip Guston Now began work on our retrospective four years ago, we all felt that the works featuring the Klan had to be addressed anew. This first meant bringing new voices and perspectives into the catalogue,” among them those of African American artists Trenton Doyle Hancock and Glenn Ligon.

The exhibiting institutions in the weeks since the postponement defended themselves against similar allegations from the public, including a slew of notable art-world figures who signed an open letter decrying the postponement. In an article published earlier today in The Art Newspaper critic Robert Storr posited that show might never happen, because “[i]t’s been tainted.” In announcing the new date today, an NGA spokeswoman contended that the change was not in response to the backlash.

Godfrey is expected to return to his post in the wake of his suspension.

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