Exhibition

Philip Guston Now

May 1–September 11, 2022
Included with General Admission

Across 50 years, the paintings of Philip Guston (1913–1980) shifted from figuration to abstraction and back again. Yet a persistent concern haunted each of his stylistic transformations: Guston never stopped questioning the place of the painter in the world. What did it mean to witness injustice outside his studio? What might paint render newly visible inside it?

This major exhibition—organized by the MFA; the National Gallery of Art, Washington; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and Tate Modern, London—foregrounds the artist’s lifelong commitment to raising difficult, even unanswerable questions. The selection of 73 paintings and 27 drawings from public and private collections features well-known works as well as others that have rarely been seen. Highlights include paintings from the 1930s that have never been on public view; a reunion of paintings from Guston’s groundbreaking Marlborough Gallery show in 1970; a striking array of small panel paintings made from 1968 to 1972; and a powerful selection of large, often apocalyptic paintings of the later 1970s that form the artist’s last major statement.

Animated by contradictions, Guston’s works are deeply ambiguous, defined equally by what he called the “brutality of the world” and by the palpable joy he took in the process of painting itself. Many of them address challenging themes, including white supremacy, racism, anti-Semitism, and violence, in part through their imagery. The exhibition features multiple paintings of hooded Ku Klux Klansmen, truncated body parts, and enigmatic scenes of struggle. These images and their meanings can appear unmistakable, indeterminate, and everything in between. Taken together, Guston’s works challenge us to grapple with the lived experience we each bring to this museum, and to this city, today.

A Message from the Curators

In the wake of the tragic murder of George Floyd, the four museums planning this exhibition—originally scheduled to open in June 2020—decided to postpone the project. Many took issue with this decision, which was intended to give the organizers time to reframe the show in light of what one press release called the “urgencies of the moment.” Those urgencies figure within a long history, and they persist within an ever-shifting present. We are showing Guston’s work now in a different way than originally planned, yet we also aspire to more far-reaching and lasting change—taking a true, and hard, look at the building in which this art hangs, and the ways in which we care for our visitors. We also know we have not gotten everything “right.” The work of this exhibition is ongoing, much like Guston’s open-ended paintings themselves. Humbly and respectfully—with these paintings as our guide—we invite you to look, and reckon, alongside us.

—The Curatorial Team for “Philip Guston Now”

Megan Bernard
Ethan Lasser
Kate Nesin
Terence Washington

We Want to Hear from You

We invite you to engage with us and others in the MFA community to reflect deeply on Guston’s work. Please feel free to respond to one of the prompts or share your own thoughts.

If you’d like to engage directly with the curatorial team, please e-mail your comments to Guston@mfa.org.

Posted comments do not necessarily reflect the views of the Museum.

Comments

Submitted by Re Almanace on May 16, 2022 11:08 am

Share your thoughts.
That painting above, of the bloated face and what appears to be cold cuts waiting to be consumed, remind me of Little Lulu's Tubby, eying the gustatory delights of an Italian Deli.

Submitted by denis Lacorne on May 16, 2022 9:42 am

If you have seen any of Guston's “hooded figure” paintings, what would you tell other visitors about them?
Why don't you represent the controversial hooded figures in the New York Times' portfolio? At least one of them? It sounds like censorship to me.
Denis Lacorne
Author of "The Limits of Tolerance", Columbia University Press

Submitted by S. Edward Burns on May 16, 2022 5:35 am

Share your thoughts.
“There is something death-like about a painting finished…destruction of paintings is very interesting to me and almost crucial.” Philip Guston once said that it is still relevant now. Guston's quote verified @ArtsEditor tweet video link interview.

Submitted by Jaclyn on May 8, 2022 2:17 pm

Share your thoughts.
I’m excited to view the show and appreciate the opportunity to listen to the conversations and audio tour prior to coming. His work has a rawness, immediacy and visceral quality that I have always connected to. The reminder to view the work through our own lens (experiences and perspective) as well as the lens, experience and historical context of the artist is helpful. I’m relieved we are talking about and shining a light on these issues in a more open, deeper and collective way than we have up until now. It gives me hope.

Submitted by Giles Eldridge on May 7, 2022 6:18 am

Share your thoughts.
Fine Art methodologies include dexterity and the exchange of ideas; propositions, not as promotion but in a play of instability with the simultaneous possibility of presentation and negation, forever questioning. Your reductive institutional methodology treats everything as Agit Prop. By intially pulling the show and now "reframing" you confront Philip Guston with a accusation. American culture has a long tradition of killing and you choose to scapegoat an artist ! With perverse cynicism you present him as the exact opposite of the man he was.

Submitted by Claude Reich on May 2, 2022 3:08 am

Share your thoughts.
Real humility would be to assume your audience is a mature one, capable of forming their own judgment by looking at the work and reading Guston's extensive writings, instead of calling on a "trauma specialist" to sweeten the blow these powerful works will always convey to their viewers.

Submitted by Dennis Sopczynski on May 1, 2022 10:14 am

Share your thoughts.
To read the collection of reviews that were brought to my attention within the past twelve hours you would think that a lot of people from the press and museums never heard of Philip Guston, or were surprised by what they saw. Where were they in 2003 when the Michael Auping curated Philip Guston Retrospective travelled the country? As a San Francisco area resident I spent a lot of time at that exhibit when it was at SFMOMA. Or how about the 1980 retrospective version? Or how about these publications: Must Mayer’s “Night Studio” and “Resilience”, Robert Slifkin’s “Out of Time”, the Hauser & Wirth publications? And a ton of other publications. Guston at the Venice Biennale recently? Something new and revelatory about Guston’s work to the museum professionals and the press in 2022? Yes. Perhaps the true story is not the exhibit, rather the manner in which it was handled. None of this hand holding stuff existed in 2003 with the Guston Retrospective. The work has not changed, but our brains have. We compromised the ability to handle such complex and mature work that Philip Guston represented.

Submitted by James Lee on May 1, 2022 12:05 am

Share your thoughts.
Philip Guston's art and his honesty, passion, protest, and politics resonate powerfully even halfway around the globe and half a century later in contemporary Hong Kong. Thank you Boston Museum of Fine Arts for not waiting until 2024 to give us here the opportunity to respond emotionally and intellectually through our own prism as we peruse Guston's paintings and drawings in your Image Gallery and watch and read the many videos and other resources you provide. In a lifetime of art appreciation (I am almost 70) I can honestly say that your online exhibition is one of the most inspiring I have 'seen.'

Submitted by Amanda Jaffe on April 30, 2022 11:22 am

Share your thoughts.
The thing that first comes in my mind when looking at many Guston paintings is the color. He so often uses pink with a bit of red and I would like to hear what the curators have to say about this color.

Submitted by Nancy Freeman on April 29, 2022 11:26 am

“We are image makers and image ridden,” Guston once said. You might feel similarly today, glued to the television, doom-scrolling on your phone. How do you process what you see?
What I see is a depraved and ugly image, not only visually ugly but giving difficult-to-fathom reasons for the ugliness…..I want to ask, What is the message?
Watching a person vomit tells me he is sick in some way, but looking at the vomit does not enlighten me to his sickness. In short, with Guston : neither the message ( if I could fathom it ) nor the shapes and colors he uses to attempt to deliver it are so unpleasant ( to me ) that I want to look away.
I am an oil painter, (a graduate of RISD and Boston Museum School ). The first rule of any art is….it has to be appealing in some way so the viewer keeps looking at it.
What is the value of any art if it is repulsive to look at?

Submitted by Dianne Goode on April 29, 2022 12:13 am

Share your thoughts.
I'm sorry but this is how culture wars are lost. Do we really need trigger notices to see works created decades ago? It's ART, the artist is expressing his reaction/interpretation of his life, emotions, history at a certain time and place.
Should we cancel Caravaggio, Picasso, or Rodin or whomever (insert another artist ) because they were murders, misogynists, abusers?
Guston was trying to shed light, not darkness. Let's look at the big picture, not the miniature.
  • Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art, Level 2

Image Gallery

Emotional Preparedness for “Philip Guston Now”

The content of this exhibition is challenging. Mental health and trauma specialist Ginger Klee offers an invitation to emotionally prepare for the experience and supplies anti-racist resources for further learning.

Read More about Emotional Preparedness

Related Events

Audio Tour on MFA Mobile

painting depicting heavily abstracted structures on horizon; sea in foreground

Philip Guston, Wharf, 1976. Oil on canvas. Collection of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Museum purchase, The Friends of Art Endowment Fund. © The Estate of Philip Guston, courtesy Hauser & Wirth.

Full of both darkness and joy, Philip Guston’s paintings come alive through close looking and open-ended exchange. This audio tour offers various voices and perspectives, inviting you to reflect deeply on the artist’s work. Download the app onto your smartphone from Apple’s App Store or Google Play, or access it on the web. For the best audio experience in the galleries, remember to bring your ear buds or headphones.

Sponsors

Ford Foundation

Lead Sponsor

The Guston Foundation

Generous Supporter with Musa and Thomas Mayer

Shapiro Family Foundation logo
Terra Foundation

Generous Supporter

Additional generous support from the Bafflin Foundation, Lisbeth Tarlow and Stephen Kay, Martin S. Kaplan and Wendy Tarlow Kaplan, Marilyn and Charles Baillie, Phil Lind, Michael Nesbitt and an anonymous donor. With gratitude to the Council for Canadian American Relations.

The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.