Painting, Smoking, Eating
- late works by Philip Guston
4 June - 7 September 2014
Philip Guston (1913-1980) is one of the most important American painters from the second half of the 20th century. He is the great master of black humour, a painters’ painter with cult status among many younger artists. This summer Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, which showed the exhibition Philip Guston with his works on paper in 2007, is showing his late works with a presentation of 86 paintings and drawings.
At the end of the 1940s and throughout the 1950s the American painter Philip Guston (1913-1980) was a highly respected member of the Abstract Expressionist circle of painters in New York. But in his late work – from around
1968 until his death in 1980 – he changed his mode of expression dramatically and entirely abandoned abstraction for
a strikingly figurative, almost comic-strip-like visual idiom. Guston thus also became a standard-bearer for the revival
of the figurative tradition in American art in the 1970s and 1980s.
To mark the centenary of Guston’s birth Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt has organized an exhibition as a tribute to the artist in collaboration with Louisiana Museum of Modern Art and Deichtorhallen Hamburg / Sammlung Falckenberg with a concentrated selection of the artist’s late works – a milestone in American painting. The exhibition, shown at Louisiana in The Curved Gallery and The Column Gallery, presents 86 works with loans from among other sources
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Centre Pompidou, Paris, the Guston family
and the McKee Gallery, New York.
Guston’s work is about the simple conditions of existence. His universe is played out in a minor key with a background in his not very life-affirming biography – his Jewish origins cannot be ignored – but his painterly energy and his artistic power are great, and the pictures triumph over the melancholy with their energetic display of colour and his distinctive figurative style.
It was at the end of the sixties that Guston radically transformed his artistic language from the more abstract signs of the hand to the advent of the object. Everything that Guston drew and painted in the last ten years of his life was his life, as represented through the accumulation of objects. Smoothing-irons, brushes, clocks, cigars, books – everything that cluttered up the studio found its way into the picture space and formed the private constellation that shows us Guston’s days, weeks, months, years. Philip Guston’s strength is that he insisted on this relationship with the reality of the close things and turned it into a pictorial world of great human strength.
Philip Guston, whose Jewish family fled Odessa for Canada at the beginning of the twentieth century, is an existential artist. Everywhere in his visual world there is a vibrant sensitivity – even though the pictures may appear both abstract and ironic.
In the 1950s the self-taught Guston gained a marginal foothold in the New York art scene and won recognition as an Abstract Expressionist alongside painters like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. But in the mid-sixties Guston changed direction and began to work figuratively. His choice of colours and subjects stood out, and his caricatured and sometimes grotesque human figures, inspired by among other things the universe of the comic strip, were unusual and aroused discussion and a historic scandal at the opening of an exhibition at the Marlborough in 1970.
After this Guston left the art scene and moved away from the city, continuing to paint and draw. Only shortly before
his death in 1980 was a major retrospective exhibition of his works held in San Francisco. This brought him recognition both as an artist and as a precursor of the figurative painting of later times.
Philip Guston in the Louisiana collection
Philip Guston is now represented in all major American museums, but in Europe it is still only a minority of museums that have acquired his works and shown exhibitions of the artist. This is not the case, however, with Louisiana, which acquired its first work, the drawing Untitled, 1970, many years ago, and which in connection with the showing of the retrospective exhibition of about 110 of the artists’ works on paper in 2007 also presented a sensational new acquisition for the museum’s collection, the painting Mirror to S. K., 1960. In the Louisiana context this painting has clear links with painters like Georg Baselitz and Per Kirkeby, while for example the contemporary Danish artist Tal R is also interested in Guston. Philip Guston is thus a good example of ‘an artists’ artist’ – that is,
a painter with great integrity who has been a strong inspiration for later generations. In addition Louisiana owns the works Division, 1975, as well as the drawings Untitled, c. 1962, and Untitled, 1968, donated in connection with the exhibition in 2007 by The Estate of Philip Guston.
Poul Erik T°jner has written about Guston in among other contexts his book Louisiana ABC.
Special catalogue and Louisiana Magasin no. 40
For the exhibition the special catalogue Philip Guston. Das Grosse Spńtwerk / Late Works by Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt and Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, HumlebŠk, is published by StrzeleckiBooks. The catalogue appears in an English/German edition and features an introduction by Poul Erik T°jner and the articles “Hilarious Crudity. Philip Guston’s Late Paintings” by Ingrid Pfeiffer; “Philip Guston. Endgame” by Harald Falckenberg; “Reading Poems with his Pen. Guston’s Poem-Pictures” by Raphael Rubinstein; “Philip Guston Talking. A lecture
at the University of Minnesota”, edited by Renee McKee; a biography and a list of works as well as a select bibliography.
Louisiana Magasin no. 40, May 2014, (only in Danish) features the article “Kontant” by Poul Erik T°jner and the article “Sp°gelser omkring bordet” by the Norwegian/American writer Siri Hustvedt.
The exhibition has been organized by Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt in collaboration with Louisiana Museum of Modern Art and Deichtorhallen Hamburg / Sammlung Falckenberg.
The exhibition is supported by C. L. Davids Fond og Samling.
Fonden Realdania is sponsor of Louisiana’s architectural exhibitions.
Further information on the exhibition Painting, Smoking, Eating – late works by Philip Guston is available from the undersigned. Press photos can be downloaded from Louisiana press website: www.louisiana.dk. A log-in can be ordered from the undersigned either by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or at M: +45 2858 5052.
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