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Art Community Backlash At Controversial Philip Guston Postponement

A collective decision of four museums last week to postpone the Philip Guston retrospective has been met by backlash from the art community.

Last week, four museums of the USA and the UK decided to postpone the controversial Philip Guston retrospective. The exhibition was slated to be launched this year at Museum of Fine Arts (Houston and Boston branches), Tate Museum (London) and National Gallery of Art (Washington DC). It was then pushed back to a 2024 release.

The museums had released a joint statement informing of the re-scheduling and their reasons for it. However, most people in the art community weren’t impressed. The controversy is around one of Guston’s paintings which were supposed to be a part of the exhibition – that of hooded Ku Klux Klan figures. While the museum argued that the message of the artist could be ‘misunderstood’ by people, many in the art community felt that the painting was much needed in the current scenario.

Philip Guston - Wikipedia
Philip Guston

Michael Auping (former curator of a 2003 Guston survey) said that the present was the ‘poignant time’ for his works. Mark Godfrey (senior curator, Tate Modern) said that the curators were not consulted before making the decision (the museums maintained that the curators were indeed consulted).

However, the concerns raised by the museums were not entirely without their point. Darren Walker (President, Ford Foundation, and a trustee at the National Gallery) was reported to say that it would be ‘tone-deaf’ to continue with the exhibition right now. Many others, like artist Trenton Doyle Hancock, have admitted that the many of Guston’s works could be ‘lucid’ in how they are interpreted by others.

But the majority from the art community has stated that Guston’s body of works, including the painting in question, was always meant to make people uneasy. Some have commented that Guston himself would be ‘rolling in his grave’ at the way his work is being treated now.